HOUSTON (AP) — A Texas man who has battled federal authorities over the three elephants he keeps in a barn behind his traveler trailer is ready to give up, the Houston Chronicle reported Wednesday.
Willie Davenport told the newspaper that the endangered elephants named Boo, Tina and Jewel are his family. Davenport, who lives in Legget, a small town 50 miles north of Houston, has been caring for the massive mammals for years, hoping to resurrect a circus family legacy.
But the U.S. Department of Agriculture alleges that the thinnest elephant, Jewel, had improper veterinary care and was losing too much weight. And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department said Davenport failed to acquire necessary permits when he bought Tina and Jewel from a Florida animal trainer for $150,000.
Boo, a 44-year-old Asian elephant weighing 9,000 pounds, has been performing with Davenport's family since before the 24-year-old was born. All three animals have performed stunts for Shriner circuses and others across the country.
"We've been monitoring her (Jewel's) health by unannounced inspections and given Davenport ample opportunities to provide adequate care and things have not improved," said USDA spokesman Dave Sacks.
The last USDA inspection reports showed both Jewel and Tina were more than 600 pounds lighter than a year before.
Davenport has denied allegations of mistreatment and even had experts from the Houston and San Diego zoos examine Jewel.
"They did every test imaginable. They found nothing wrong except maybe one molar was crooked," Davenport said.
Local veterinarian Milton Thiel said he hasn't seen anything wrong.
"I've seen the elephants trumpeting and playing in the mud. They seem content," Thiel said.
But U.S. Fish and Wildlife spokesman Tom Buckley pointed out that Davenport does not have permits to own endangered animals that are protected by an international trade agreement.
Davenport said he didn't know about the specific permit but instead supplied various others.
After hiring a Houston lawyer, Davenport said he can no longer afford to fight and will turn over the elephants.
"I'm thinking about going back to college to become a vet," Davenport said. "I want to prove I did nothing wrong."
Davenport's grandfather Terrell Jacobs performed with the 1939 Ringling Bros. circus with one of the largest group of animals ever assembled.