35 Circus Elephants Retire to Florida Where They Were Welcomed By Miles of Forest, Grassland, and Waterholes Galore
What do you think of when you hear the word “circus?” Clowns? Acrobats? Or does the image of an elephant balancing on a giant striped ball pop into your head? For the past two decades, elephants have been at the forefront of the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus, aligning the entertainment experience with these gentle giants.
Over the past few years, when elephants could no longer balance or parade around, they would be sent to central Florida, where they would live on a reserve – though recent reports have claimed that the reserve that received these elephants may in some way abuse the gentle creatures. After these claims were made public the decision was made to move the elephants.
In recent weeks, the former circus elephants have begun the process of moving to another reserve where all forms of potential abuse or mistreatment will cease. At the White Oak Preserve, which currently consists of 135-arces of land in Florida, these elephants are welcomed by miles of forest and grassland, and plenty of watering holes to splash around in.
Employees of the wildlife sanctuary say it was very emotional to see the first former circus elephants walk out of the barn into their new lush, green home for the first time.
“There was more than one wet eye that day,” said Michelle Gadd to The Washington Post, who leads the White Oak preserve for endangered and threatened species such as cheetahs, rhinos, okapi, zebras and condors. “I really loved seeing one of the elephants just flop down in the forest, close her eyes and have a good solid nap for an hour. Just to see her that comfortable that she’d have a snooze under a palm tree was really beautiful.”
Amazingly, some of the elephants have already taken to staying in the forest for days at a time – returning to the barn to retrieve treats from handlers, a move that is closely in line with how they would behave in the wild.
In 2016, Ringling Bros. retired all of its elephants after push back from the public. These creatures are now as happy as can be on in their lush sanctuary – with plans to further expand the space to 2500-arces over time, according to 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…It’s our duty to make sure that their future is better than their past, and that their tomorrows are better than their yesterdays.”