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Huntington Beach officials unaware of elephant at wedding despite ban

Huntington Beach officials say they were unaware that an elephant was brought into the city for use in a wedding ceremony, despite an ordinance banning performances by exotic animals.

The large pachyderm was seen Oct. 18 on Twin Dolphin Drive during a wedding at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa.

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City spokeswoman Julie Toledo said the Community Services Department was not aware that the elephant would be at the wedding and no city permit was issued.

Paul Devitt, general manager of the Hyatt Regency, said he also was unaware that the animal would be there, though he said the hotel's catering team was notified.

The elephant is owned by Have Trunk Will Travel, a Perris-based company that rents out elephants for educational programs, parades, rides and other activities, the Huntington Beach Independent reported.

"It was our understanding that the company had gotten all the permits that they needed and the authorization from the city," Devitt said. "That's what we were led to believe, and it's their responsibility to do that as part of our agreement with them.… I don't know if they did or they didn't. We're still trying to figure that out."

Kari and Gary Johnson, owners of Have Trunk Will Travel, could not be reached for comment.

In 2002, Huntington Beach passed its ordinance against performances by elephants, bears, tigers, camels, monkeys and other animals to protect them from "cruel and inhumane treatment," according to the municipal code.

Exceptions are allowed if the activity is endorsed or accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Assn., it is in the ordinary course of a veterinarian's practice or a film permit is issued by the Community Services Department.

In June, Mayor Matthew Harper tried to have the ban repealed, saying it was obsolete and had the "unintended consequence" of preventing people from using animals during cultural celebrations and weddings. His attempt failed on a 4-3 vote.

The activist group Animal Defenders International says Have Trunk Will Travel has abused its elephants, including Tai, the star pachyderm of the film "Water for Elephants." In 2011, members of the group recorded about 10 hours of video that they said show trainers from the company using stun guns and bull hooks on elephants.

The Johnsons have said they treat their elephants humanely.

Matt Rossell, campaign director of Animal Defenders International, and other group members talked with Huntington Beach police and Community Services Director Janeen Laudenback about the wedding.

"We just want to make sure working forward that this doesn't happen again," Rossell said. "Luckily, nothing went wrong and we didn't hear about any injuries."

Anthony Clark Carpio is a Times Community News staff writer.

Follow the reporter on Twitter: @acocarpio

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