An Open Letter To the Durham Fair Association:
What if you canceled Elephant Encounters right now, just told Mr. Morris you’ve changed your mind and he can keep Cora and Shannon home?
What do you lose? I’ve heard estimates of $7,000-$14, 000, perhaps even more, to bring them here; and you certainly won’t get any of that back at this late date. But this is not additional money that will be lost; it’s already paid or at least committed. And for what? A boost in Fair attendance? I think that boat sailed soon after the announcement that the elephants were coming, and the opposite is a real possibility. The elephants are not likely to bring more people in because there has been no promotion of them at all. The brochure, with a pig on the cover, has them buried as a small 3-line announcement at the bottom of pg. 3; and the only mention of them I could find on your web site is among all the other attractions in the Daily Schedule. I question whether many outside of Durham and Middlefield even know elephants will be here, other than from reading protesting comments in Patches. And then there are all those threatened attendance boycotts, which, even if not as large as promised, will cause some reduction in visitors. Even most of the people we’ve talked to who plan to go to the Fair “because the kids can’t miss it” say they will not go to the elephant act. Something you will lose for sure is the good will and encouraging words of Gary Payne, Alexis Kaiser and the full membership of Circus Fans Of America who will call you cowards and wusses for caving in to “animal cultist” liars.
But what might you gain? If you play your cards right, maybe more great publicity than the Fair has gotten in a very long time. You put out a press release along the lines of: After carefully reviewing new information (e.g., HBO’s “An Apology To Elephants,” National Geographic’s “The Urban Elephant,” the In Defense Of Animals web site, The Elephant Sanctuary Of Tennessee web site, countless articles and reports, among others) and taking to heart the outpouring of public sentiment, the Durham Fair Association has decided to cancel the Elephant Encounters act planned for this year, etc. … It has concluded that neither the Fair, with its core value of respect for animals, nor the Town nor the townspeople of Durham should be associated with the practice of exploiting wild animals for entertainment with little or no educational value, etc. … We apologize to anyone who had planned to come to the Fair to see the elephants, but hope you will come anyway to share in all the excitement a country fair offers including (here shamelessly insert promotions for anything and everything you want) etc. etc. etc.
You get the picture. Then you crank up your publicity machine and send this out to every paper and media outlet and TV station in the State and beyond. Maybe even send it down to New York: to Charlie Rose and Gayle King, to CBS’s Sunday Morning, the Today Show, Good Morning, America. “Small Connecticut Town’s Fair Stands Up Against Elephant Abuse!” Maybe local TV stations could be here on Friday filming little kids in elephant costumes roaming the grounds taking up a collection for The Elephant Sanctuary Of Tennessee (www.elephants.com). There’s real human interest here, good, wholesome down-home family values plus elephants, everyone’s favorite animal to protect as you have found out. Who knows who might go for it as a relief from the latest crisis in Syria? The publicity and good will could help deliver one of the Fair’s best gates in recent years; it certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Now do I think Cora’s and Shannon’s lives will be better if they don’t come here? Of course not. Their fates were sealed decades ago, and the best they can expect is an earlier retirement at a sanctuary like the one in Tennessee if Mr. Morris should decide he would be better off hanging up his bull hook sooner rather than later. But the Fair and the Town could take a stand against exploitation of elephants, an example to other fairs and towns facing similar decisions and make a small contribution to the cause of eradicating it, of sending it the way of cock fights, dog fighting, bear baiting, freak shows, ivory selling, etc., maybe not in all our lifetimes, but that’s OK. And the Fair, standing four-square against elephant exploitation, might just get the attendance boost it wanted from the start.
Is it too late for this? I don’t think so. The most valuable publicity usually is in the final days leading up to the Fair or during it. But maybe it is, and I’m just naïve. I’m sure Gary Payne thinks, or hopes, I am. I love the Fair and have gone to it every year since we moved here almost thirty years ago. I want it to do well, to bring in enough to fund all its worthwhile causes; and I just think it can do much better without the elephants than with them. But maybe we’ll never know. Thank you for your patience.
Respectfully, Don Bourret