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Posts Tagged ‘Ringling Brothers’

12 Asian elephants have arrived at White Oak Conservation.
Stephanie Rutan / Via White Oak Conservation

Because of the heat wave, I went out for my walk at 5:30 this morning, while it was still pleasant. I saw a bluebird, a couple rabbits, and a snapping turtle that crossed a bridge and launched herself 20 feet into the river. That was her choice.

The subjects of today’s story went a long time without having choices like the ones snapping turtles, wild rabbits, and bluebirds enjoy. Having spent many years doing tricks in the circus, they now reside at a 135-acre sanctuary where staff say they can hide for days at a time. Life is not completely natural, but it’s better than the circus.

Cathy Free reports at the Washington Post, “For about two decades, elephants that performed with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus were sent to a reserve in central Florida when they became too old to balance on two legs and parade around arenas doing tricks and dancing for large crowds. …

“In recent weeks, the former circus elephants have begun moving to a 135-acre sanctuary, one that is not affiliated with the circus that for years was accused of mistreating and abusing the gentle giants.

“Three weeks after being let loose in the White Oak Conservation center in Yulee, Fla., the first group of elephants has been exploring the new surroundings, and staff members say they don’t see some of them for days at a time. When they do spy the large animals, they say, they are swimming in the deep end of a pond or having a dust bath, followed by a nap in the shade. They also snack on watermelon and banana buffets.

“Employees say it was an emotional moment to watch the elephants walk out of their barn together for the first time into the lush acreage.

“ ‘There was more than one wet eye that day,’ said Michelle Gadd, who leads the White Oak preserve for endangered and threatened species such as cheetahs, rhinos, okapi, zebras and condors. …

“Ringling Bros. retired all of its elephants in 2016, ending a 145-year tradition, after pushback from the public about the pachyderms being forced to perform. … A year-and-a-half after the elephants were retired, the circus closed shop because of declining ticket sales. …

“Philanthropists Mark and Kimbra Walter arranged to purchase all 32 of the former Ringling Bros. elephants and have them transported 200 miles from Central Florida to Yulee, outside Jacksonville. The Walters bought the 17,000-acre White Oak sanctuary in 2013, and have been expanding it since. …

“Eventually, the elephant portion of the refuge will cover 2,500 acres and feature nine linked areas with enough water holes, forests, grasslands and wetlands to support the entire herd, said Nick Newby, 41, who leads the elephant caretaker team and helped plan the habitat.

“ ‘We wanted it to be as natural as possible, and we wanted to consider the social dynamic as well,’ Newby said. ‘Elephants are very sociable animals, so we like to study them, see what their personalities are like and then try to mix and match them with other elephants they might like to cohabitate with.’ …

“For Newby, who has worked with elephants for 18 years (mostly in zoos), there was a sense of elation as he watched the animals wander through their new home.

“ ‘It’s all about the elephants, so to see them out there doing natural elephant behaviors like swimming, was exhilarating and rewarding,’ he said. …

“Asian and African elephants are endangered in the wild because of loss of habitat and illegal poaching, [Gadd] said. The World Wildlife Fund estimates that there are about 415,000 elephants in Africa, while less than 50,000 remain in Asia.

“Wildlife conservation studies have shown that between 15,000 and 20,000 elephants are held in zoos or are still used by safari companies and circuses around the world. …

“Plans haven’t yet been developed for the public to view the elephants from afar, but Newby said the ultimate goal would be for somebody to look through a pair of binoculars at the White Oak refuge and feel as though they were watching elephants in their natural habitat.

“ ‘The gentle giants at the sanctuary are ambassadors for elephants in the wild,’ he said. ‘It’s our duty to make sure that their future is better than their past, and that their tomorrows are better than their yesterdays.’ ”

More at the Post, here.

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