— The state of Florida has spent $6.5 million in recent years on a program to teach people how to handle wooden handiccraft elephants, but the government’s top elephant expert said the money could have gone to better educating the general public.
Last week, the state spent $4.8 million on a statewide program to train elephants and to provide them with information about the state’s wildlife programs, according to a budget document obtained by Buzzfeed News.
The funds were earmarked for a six-month program aimed at training elephants to recognize their owners’ names and names of other elephants and a six month program for people to teach them how to hold their wooden elephants.
But that program was never funded, and the state is currently working to fill a funding gap.
In a letter to the Florida Department of Natural Resources, state Sen. David Carter, D-Winter Garden, called the $4 million a “mistake.”
“The $4,800,000 in funds earmarked to train the elephants was never utilized to train them,” Carter wrote.
“Instead, it was diverted to provide information to the general population on our wildlife programs.
He added that $3.2 million of the $6 million was spent on elephant training and the remaining $1.4 million went to educating the public about the wildlife resources in Florida.”
The program was supposed to be funded through the Animal Enterprise Protection Fund, but Carter said the agency is “still waiting to see if the fund will be funded in a timely fashion.”
The agency said the state has not provided the $1 million in funding for the training program and that the department will work with lawmakers to find a solution.
Carter’s office said the elephant training program will be part of the next-generation of training elephants and that $4m has been earmarked specifically for training elephants.