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Monday, May 9, 2011

Shrine Circus coming to town

May. 8, 2011

Written byJosh O’Leary

Iowa City Press-Citizen
The Johnson County 4-H Fairgrounds see their share of enormous livestock each summer, but nothing that compares to the larger-than-life animals set to take center stage there today and Tuesday.The Shrine Circus is wheeling into town this week, bringing five Asian elephants — including 6.5-ton Bo, who is said to be able to throw a football and hit a baseball — and a team of seven Siberian tigers.Five semis and a cavalcade of RVs, the modern day circus train, was set to arrive Sunday night in Iowa City to set up the three rings for four shows in two days.“It’s kind of like a moving city,” spokeswoman Amanda Tackett said of the circus, which performs nearly 500 shows a year across the country.Tackett calls the production a “cruelty-free circus,” saying the animals, which are born and raised into the show, share a unique bond with their trainers.

Elephant trainer Larry Carden, whose family has operated the circus for decades, said the animals are the true stars of the show, and they enjoy living the lifestyle of entertainers.“They enjoy being around people; they enjoy the attention,” Carden said. “It’s just like your dog at home, they enjoy the love and the bonding.”Carden, 30, has been touring with the circus for 15 years, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.

He is one of the 70 to 80 members of the company, which features performers from around the world.“It’s a great life,” Carden said. “It might sound tough every day, but you get in a routine, just like someone who gets up 6:30 or 7 in the morning, and that’s a grind, too. We have a lot more fun than a regular job.

”In addition to the elephants and tigers, the two-legged performers are just as impressive, Tackett said.“This is a completely fresh show,” she said. “We have a bunch of new acrobats, aerialists. These people are elite athletes and gymnasts.

”Proceeds from the event benefit El Kahir Shrine of Cedar Rapids, a philanthropic organization that supports the Shriner network of children’s hospitals.

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