Retired Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Bailey Elephants Arrive At Their New Home At White Oak Conservation In Florida
The first herd of Asian elephants that were retired from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus have arrived safely at their new home at White Oak Conservation in Florida. The refuge for endangered species is funded by philanthropists Mark and Kimbra Walter, who are also the owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team.
Twelve female elephants, ranging from 8 to 38 years old, will be joined by up to 20 former circus elephants as soon as additional areas are completed at the conservation center.
“We are thrilled to give these elephants a place to wander and explore,” said Mark and Kimbra Walter in a statement. “We are working to protect wild animals in their native habitats, but for these elephants that can’t be released, we are pleased to give them a place where they can live comfortably for the rest of their lives.”
The elephants were moved 200 miles in pairs in customized trucks in order to get to White Oak Conservation. Throughout their journey, the elephants were accompanied by their veterinarians and animal care specialists.
Upon arrival, they were released into two large paddocks to acclimate to their surroundings, adjacent to a specially designed, climate-controlled barn where veterinarians and specialists monitored their health and well-being. The elephants have now ventured out of their paddocks into pine forests with ponds, wetlands, and open grasslands.
The area that the elephants now inhabit has various habitats and food available for them. They can choose to stay near the barn and their human caregivers, or wander in the woods, wallow in the mud or swim in their pond.
White Oak Conservation’s philosophy is to accommodate animals’ natural behavior and social bonds as closely as possible so family groups will be together.
This elephant group has been socialized together for the past several months, and includes two sets of full sisters and numerous half-sisters. Nick Newby, who leads White Oak’s expert team was recruited to care for the elephants, and has been getting to know the individual elephants and their habits for the past few years.
“Watching the elephants go out into the habitat was an incredible moment,” said Newby. “I was so happy to see them come out together and reassure and comfort each other, just like wild elephants do, and then head out to explore their new environment. Seeing the elephants swim for the first time was amazing.”
“Elephants are such amazing creatures, and we are pleased to give them a place where they will flourish,” said Michelle Gadd, who oversees the Walters’ conservation efforts. “It’s been fascinating to see the elephants take their first steps into this beautiful natural space. We are excited to watch them adapt to the great outdoors, tasting new plants, exploring new areas, experiencing new things.”
Asian elephants are endangered in the wild. Only 30,000 to 50,000 elephants remain in the wild in less than 15% of their historic range. Where they do survive, they are threatened by habitat degradation and fragmentation, conflict with humans, and poaching.
“In the last few years, everything has changed for these elephants for the better — from their retirement, to the way they interact with humans, and the space they have to roam,” said Steve Shurter, White Oak’s Executive Director. “For the first time in their lives, these elephants can choose where and how they want to spend their days.”
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