Concerns About Elephant Welfare Prompt Penn State To Review Animal Event Policies
While many students enjoyed the warmer weather Saturday, the South Asian Student Association (SASA) hosted its annual Holi Festival, a celebration of color and springtime, on the HUB lawn.
The cultural event also featured an exciting attendee — Beulah, a 45-year-old elephant.
Students who attended report the elephant was confined to a makeshift pen with no access to water (Elephants typically drink over 60 gallons of water per day.) and was fed marshmallows, doughnuts, and fruit.
Late Saturday evening, student Andreas Haggiandreou uploaded a video of the elephant. Outraged by how poorly the elephant was treated, Higgiandreou and his friend Kevin Cali launched a Change.org petition to ban animal performances at Penn State. The petition says performance animals like Beulah are brought to campus for no educational purpose, but rather solely for entertainment, and could pose a significant safety hazard if set loose.
The video had more than 20,000 views and the petition garnered more than a thousand supporters at the time of publication. A previous Change.org petition to retire Beulah the elephant even has more than 200,000 supporters.
Research into R.W. Commerford & Sons, the company that brought the elephant to Penn State, revealed alarming reviews, corroborating much of what Haggiandreou and Cali saw.
The United States Department of Agriculture has cited R.W. Commerford & Sons numerous times for failure to provide animals with adequate veterinary care, failure to maintain enclosures and transport trailers, failure to have an attendant present during periods of public contact, improper feeding, and poor housekeeping.
Penn State PETA Campus Representative Kaitlyn Christy was disappointed when she found out SASA brought an elephant to Holi. “[The elephant] was poked and pulled around while being used for Instagram photo ops,” Christy said. “This is cruel and completely unacceptable.”
Though SASA partnered with SPA to host the festival, SPA Public Relations Director Ryan Heidig said the organization was not involved in the decision to bring the elephant to campus. The organization only helped provide marketing materials for the event.
UPAC approved and funded SASA’s event and the cost of the elephant through an allocation of the Student Activities Fee. Chair Mike Hoeschele said animal entertainment falls under the Honoraria section of UPAC’s handbook.
The Committee must follow its handbook to a tee when approving fee allocations, but Hoeschele said UPAC doesn’t investigate companies student organizations wish to purchase products from or sign contracts with. Individual student organizations are responsible for completing any vetting.
“While the event was conducted in accordance with Penn State guidelines for animal-related events on University property, the University takes seriously issues of animal safety and well being,” Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said. “Penn State leaders plan to review our current procedures and policies for events where animals are brought on campus, as well as the vetting process for companies that provide animals.”
SASA declined to comment on the situation when reached by email.