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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Polk City Elephants Hard to Forget

Center for Conservation offers rare glimpse at lives of massive animals.


PIERRE DUCHARME THE LEDGER

Icky, a 33-year-old female Asian elephant, works with Trudy Williams, manager of Animal Stewardship, at the Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk County recently.

By Kevin Bouffard, THE LEDGER

Saturday, September 17, 2011

POLK CITY, FL Elephants have played a prominent part in global history (Hannibal's invasion of Rome) and literature (Dumbo, Babar and Rudyard Kipling's jungle stories) for thousands of years, and it would be a tragedy to many people around the world if their extinction confined them to books and films.
The Center for Elephant Conservation near Polk City is working hard to help avert that outcome.
Owned and operated by Feld Entertainment — the producers of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and live Disney shows — the center serves as both a captive breeding program for endangered Asian elephants and a retirement home for circus elephants. It also works with research scientists from the University of Florida and elsewhere to learn more about the earth's largest land mammal.
"They're big, charismatic animals, and not a lot of research has been done on them," said scientist Ramiro Isaza, a UF associate professor of veterinary medicine. "I really like smart animals. I like to say I like working on animals that are smarter than myself."
Opened in 1995, the center has become the most successful breeder of captive Asian elephants in the Western hemisphere with 23 births, including one rare birth from artificial insemination, said Janice Aria, director of animal stewardship.
That rare birth was a male born Jan. 19, 2009, the day before the presidential inauguration. Thus it was named Barack.
Barack is currently one of 45 elephants at the center, including 11 males, the largest bull elephant herd in captivity, according to Aria.
The elephant center, which is not open to the public, has two pregnant elephants, she said. But because the gestation period lasts up to 22 months, they will not arrive until next year.

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