April 19, 2013

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

Cora, a 47-year-old elephant, and her owner Cindy Morris, have previously been part of the Shriner Circus at the Augusta Civic Center.

Elephants denied entry into Maine over tuberculosis test

By Keith Edwards
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Johnny Rocket, "Just Larry" the clown, a flying trapeze act, a ballerina on horseback, Ringmaster Peter Sturgis and other big top performers will be at the 60th annual Kora Shrine Circus at the Augusta Civic Center Saturday. But not Nosey the elephant.

Neither Nosey, nor any other elephants, will be part of this year's circus — a major fundraiser for the Shriners fraternal organization — after they were denied entry by state officials because they hadn't had a recent-enough tuberculosis test required by the state.

The producer of the circus said elephants were en route to Maine for three Shriner circus shows in Lewiston, Portland and Augusta when the stop occurred.

"It's a bureaucratic nightmare," said Jim Hamid Jr., producer of Hamid Circus Inc., the firm providing the circus acts for the Shriners. "I've never had anything (like this happen) before. And we've been in the business 82 years."

Hamid said the specific type of TB test required by Maine was previously administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but the USDA no longer uses it. He said Maine still requires the test, but the USDA no longer administers it.

"You can't get it done any more," he said of the test. "So by administering this rule, Maine is saying no more elephants are allowed in the state."

Not true, according to state veterinarian Michele Walsh. She said the test is still available, and elephants still can come to Maine.

"Elephants are welcome in Maine, if they meet our criteria for importation," Walsh said. "They didn't have the appropriate test done within the 12 months prior, as required to come in to Maine."

Walsh said she received a recent request to bring a single elephant, Nosey, into Maine for the Hamid Circus. That request was denied because Nosey hadn't had one of two required TB tests done within the required time frame.

She said elephants infected with TB can spread the disease to humans.

Hamid said the elephant was, before the Maine shows, in New Hampshire waiting for a permit to come into Maine. Having been denied that permit, the elephant is now in North Carolina, he said, waiting for the next show.

Dan Gove, circus chairman for the Shriners in Maine, said the elephants are a popular feature, and synonymous with the circus.

But the show will go on, he said, and it's still packed with two-hours plus of action for the whole family.

Remaining events, he noted, include a trapeze act, a comedy tow truck act, a ballerina on horseback, an aerial motorcyclist, a performance by dogs that were all rescued from pounds and trained, and both professional and Kora Shrine clowns.

"It's something the whole family can do and enjoy," Gove said of the popular shows. "Fun, wholesome family entertainment."

Hamid said that's a major reason circuses have survived for so long as entertainment, even with the growth of technology and changes in society.

"You can go with your grandchildren and not be embarrassed, and both of you will enjoy the acts," Hamid said. "It's good clean family entertainment, for all ages. That's why it's survived so long."

Saturday's three shows are scheduled for 9:30 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The circus raises funds to help offset the cost of running the Shriners' fraternal organization, Gove said, including the cost of maintaining the organization's building in Lewiston.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

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