Owners of Sham Sanctuary Called Upon to Retire Surviving Elephants in Wake of Dixie’s Disappearance
For Immediate Release:
February 24, 2021
David Perle 202-483-7382
Fredericksburg, Texas – Today, PETA fired off a letter to notorious former Have Trunk Will Travel (HTWT) elephant exhibitors Gary and Kari Johnson, who currently own and operate the Fredericksburg-based elephant entertainment facility The Preserve, questioning them about the disappearance and suspected death of an elephant named Dixie and pressing them to retire the remaining elephants in their custody to reputable sanctuaries.
PETA notes that, in recent video footage recorded prior to her disappearance, Dixie appeared to be emaciated and lame. For years, California-based HTWT carted her around the country and forced her to perform tricks and give rides under threat of punishment with a bullhook, an instrument with a sharp metal hook resembling a fireplace poker. It was documented that the Johnsons were using this weapon to hit and yank Dixie and other elephants. When California banned the use of bullhooks, the Johnsons moved their operation to Texas and rebranded it as a “preserve”—even though the elephants held there are used for cruel stunts and paid public encounters.
“Poor Dixie was exploited for years by the Johnsons,” says PETA Foundation Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement Rachel Mathews. “Nothing can undo her suffering, but PETA is calling on this exhibitor to release the other elephants and grant them a peaceful retirement so that they can roam, forage, play, and just be elephants at long last.”
PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—opposes speciesism, which is a human-supremacist worldview. For more information, please visit PETA.org or follow the group on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.
PETA’s letter to the Johnsons follows.
February 24, 2021
Gary and Kari Johnson
Dear Mr. and Mrs. Johnson,
I’m writing on behalf of PETA regarding the disappearance of the elephant Dixie and to urge you to immediately retire the four elephants who remain at The Preserve to an accredited sanctuary. In recent weeks, mentions of Dixie have been wiped from your websites, and she hasn’t been used in public interactions. While you’ve made no announcement, many fear that she may be dead, particularly given her emaciated condition in recent months.
If true, Dixie’s death follows a long life of servitude. Like most other elephants used in traveling acts, Dixie was abducted from her mother and wild home as a baby. Operating as Have Trunk Will Travel, you made a living by taking her to fairs and other events, forcing her to give rides and perform demeaning circus tricks for audiences. Nothing could be further from the environment an elephant needs to thrive: lush forests, cool streams, and a warm family to explore them with.
Even after your move to Texas and rebranding as The Preserve, Dixie received little reprieve from constant human interference. Under the threat of punishment with a bullhook—something Dixie and the other elephants you’ve trained know all too well—she was used for public interactions and stunts such as bathing, painting, and standing on her head. In recent photos and video footage, Dixie appeared to be emaciated and lame, signs of the toll of a grueling life of performance.
While it might be too late to grant Dixie the retirement she so desperately needed, there’s still time for the remaining elephants at The Preserve. Elephants need to roam, forage, socialize, and play, and they need the freedom to do it on their own terms. An accredited sanctuary can give them this freedom, along with expert care in the treatment of aging elephants.
With proper care and a freer existence, Tai, Kitty, Rosie, and Becky could live for decades longer, and they deserve to spend those years in true retirement, free from performances and forced human interaction. These elephants have given everything they have to your family—isn’t it time you gave them something in return? I look forward to hearing from you.
Very truly yours,
Rachel Mathews, Esq.
Director | Captive Animal Law Enforcement