For this group of Asian elephants, their days of entertaining fans under the big top are long gone.
After spending years working for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus—and a few years in retirement—this herd of former circus elephants is finally settling into their retirement home in Central Florida.
12 female Asian elephants ranging in age from 8 to 38 recently arrived at White Oak Conservation and released into a forest habitat teeming with pine trees, open grasslands, ponds, and wetlands.
Accompanied by veterinarians and animal care specialists, the group traveled 200 miles to the sanctuary in customized trucks.
“We are thrilled to give these elephants a place to wander and explore. 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,” philanthropists and White Oak founders Mark and Kimbra Walter said about this remarkable event.
Nick Newby, who has led the team caring for these elephants for years, described the animals’ arrival at their new home as an “incredible moment.”
“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,” he said. “Seeing the elephants swim for the first time was amazing.”
According to Michelle Gadd, chief of conservation for the Walter family, the elephants were born in the United States and never lived in the wild.
Gadd said they’re “doing amazingly well.” She was actually surprised at how quickly they adapted to the environment.
Initially, she was afraid that they would just hang out around the barn because they’re used to being around people. But, instead, the animals slept out in the woods and ventured on their own for a few days at a time.
After years of public outcry over what many consider animal cruelty, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey stopped their elephant attractions in 2016. They gave their final performances in 2017 after 146 years of existence.
After leaving the circus, the animals were taken to a preserve south of Orlando. Soon after, they were bought by the nonprofit Walter Conservation, and that’s when the construction of their sanctuary home began.
This group of elephants has been socialized together for the past two years and includes two sets of full sisters and several half-sisters. They’re also the youngest elephants, so they’re expected to be the most adaptable.
The staff scattered hay, produce, and special elephant supplements around the habitat, but the animals are starting to eat some of the food options growing there.
Once additional construction is completed on the 2,500-acre location, this group will be joined by 20 more elephants from the Polk City farm.
The area will be divided into multiple habitats to house different herds or to separate some of the elephants. They also plan to build three barns with high-tech veterinary equipment.
Eight of the elephants coming from Polk City are males that need to be kept apart.
“Asian males are not known to be forming cohesive groups that tolerate one another,” Gadd said. “So we’re not going to be moving multiple males up here until we have multiple habitats and barn spaces ready for them.”
Unfortunately, Asian elephants are now listed as endangered. According to the World Wildlife Fund, they have an estimated population of only 30,000 to 50,000 in the wild. Their species is threatened by poaching, habitat loss, conflict with humans.
White Oak Conservation is a 17,000-acre refuge for rare species certified by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums. The location is also home to animals such as cheetahs, rhinos, and antelopes.
Finally, these beautiful elephants get to live the happy life they deserve in their new home. See their beautiful new home below:
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