With the Backing of the USDA, One Lady Seeks to Remove One Man's Elephant that he's Loved and Owned for Over 25 Years.
"Jewel" (center) is at the center of controversy.
Polk County Man Struggles to Keep His Elephant, LEGGETT, August 15, 2009 - Willie Davenport, an animal exhibitor, has 3 female elephants: Boo (52 yrs. old), Jewel (45 yrs. old), and Tina (42 yrs. old). The problem Davenport is having is with Jewel and a lady named Denise Sofranko. Sofranko wants to take Jewel away from Davenport and put her in an "elephant sanctuary". Davenport is a 3rd generation animal exhibitor. "Denise Sofranko drove my dad out of business in 1997 and now she's coming for me... It's personal", Davenport told PolkCountyToday.com. "Elephants at her sanctuary die frequently" he says. "The last one that died just a couple of weeks ago laid on its side immobile for 3 weeks until if slowly and painfully passed away". According to Davenport, Sofranco's elephant sanctuary is in Tennessee and Sofranco has the backing of the United States Department of Agriculture. So why is Sofranco so bent on getting Jewel whose been in Davenport's family for over 40 years? "She says it's for health reasons" Davenport said. "I've had my elephants checked every possible way that they can be checked" said Davenport. According to Davenport, his elephants are checked regularly. "They've had their blood test, fecal test, urine test, saliva test, and tested for tuberculosis 3 different ways". "They have a clean bill of health", Davenport says.
At odds: Willie Davenport (left) and Denise Sofranko
Friend and supporter, Marty Lowe of the Polk County Farm Bureau, says "Sofranco will look at the elephant and if the elephant is not obese, then it's underweight. If the elephant gets fattened up, then it's overweight. It's a scam..." he says. Lowe is a respected agricultural authority in Polk County. According to Lowe, Sofranco has close ties with the USDA. "She's a member of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), and PETA has managed to infiltrate the USDA. That's how she's able to manipulate the USDA and get their backing" says Lowe. Davenport says the way the scam works is Sofranco and her people confiscate elephants from all over the USA. They then take the enormous animals to their "sanctuary". Then they solicit donations, and people with good intentions send in money, and the money comes pouring in. "But they don't really care for the animals, that's why they're so often left to die". With the USDA backing Sofranko, Davenport has an uphill battle in his fight to keep Jewel. "Jewel is just the beginning" Davenport says, "Denise Sofranko wants all 3 of my elephants". On this hot day on a little street off of Upper Leggett Road, Sofranko got her way. With the backing of the USDA and local law enforcement having to uphold the law, Deputy Mike Nettles of the Polk County Sheriff's Office informed Davenport that Sofranko had clearance remove Jewel from his property. Davenport got a last minute call from his attorney who informed them that the elephant can't cross state lines without a health certificate for a clean bill of health. "My big question is this: If the elephant has a clean bill of health, then why are they taking her from me?" Davenport says. "We've had my elephants checked by vets from Texas A&M. They've been examined by local veterinarians. We've had elephant expert James Oosterhause flown in from the San Diego Zoo...What else do we need to do?" Davenport said. According to Davenport, the USDA doesn't have a set of standard requirements or qualifications on what constitutes a healthy elephant. A clearly frustrated Willie Davenport said "If they would just tell us what the requirements are, we can meet them, but they wont, and that's part of how the scam works" he says.
A large truck waits to remove Jewel from her home.
Having clearance to take Jewel, Deputy Mike Nettles was forced to cut the lock on the compound so that the large truck can back in to transport Jewel. Davenport refused to help load the enormous animal even though they asked him to help, "I'm not going to help you take my elephant" he said. At the last minute, Sofranko and the USDA representatives called it off and left. "They'll be back when the cameras aren't here" Davenport said. "What they do is wrap a chain around one of Jewel's legs and force her into a truck. Jewel doesn't want to leave and she's not going to go easily. It wont be pretty when they try to take her, and it's common for the poor elephant to end up with a broken leg".
With the support of local leaders like Marty Lowe and local veterinarians and receipts and paperwork to prove his elephant is cared for and kept humanely, why in the world is Sofranko and the USDA trying to take Jewel? Is this a case of the federal government over reaching into our lives? Stay tuned. When the story further develops, PolkCountyToday.com will post updates on what transpires. Click HERE to visit Willie Davenport's Website.
The elephants appeared to be very healthy and very happy. They were kept behind this fence while we took photos. Normally, they roam a large compound complete with a small lake of water. Davenport feeds the animals very well and has records of their regular health care.
USDA representatives await their orders.
Deputy Mike Nettles keeps order in a situation that was favoring Denise Sofranko. Marty Lowe (left) of the Polk County Farm Bureau sides with Davenport.
Neutural, but will uphold the law: Deputy Mike Nettles obtained permission from Davenport to cut the lock allowing access for a truck to back in to the property to remove Jewel.
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