We sent D Magazine intern Karley Osborn to eat lunch, and she came back with photos of these wrinkly friends.
This is a story about circus elephants who do lunch.
Jump for the circus.
Orange shopping carts sectioned off the El Rio Grande parking last Thursday, turning the space into an elephant-sized cafeteria for the afternoon. MEGA 107.5 blasted music from a tent outside the supermarket as super(sized) stars Bo, Cindy, and Jenny from the George Carden Circus chowed down on their favorite treats from the produce aisle: red apples, carrots, and bananas.
The purpose of the pachyderms’ public snack break? A little bit of promo for the Shrine Circus, running March 30th-April 1st at the Fair Park Coliseum.
Heavy traffic on I-30 caused the circus’ blue transport truck to arrive about 30 minutes behind schedule, so when the three Asian elephants did finally disembark they were Hungry with a capital H. Bo and his lady-friends pre-gamed with an appetizer of hay, then suited up in harnesses bedazzled with red and blue stars before walking trunk-in-tail to the center of the parking lot where their banquet tables awaited.
Weighing in at 12,000 pounds and standing 11 ½ feet tall, Bo the bull is the largest performing elephant in the world. As it turns out, he just may be the greediest, too.
“When it’s time to relax, [the elephants] love their sweet grains. That’s like their dessert at the end of the day. We have to watch Bo because he’ll steal the sweet grain from the girl elephants,” says Bill Cunningham, executive director of the circus.
As the elephants continued to swipe up piles of produce, we learned other interesting facts: that elephants can eat up to 150 pounds of food a day and are meat-eaters in the wild, although our circus friends stick to a primarily celeb-style vegetarian diet. Well, except for Bo.
“Bo’s been known to eat hot dogs,” says Cunningham. “He ate 61 hot dogs and then spit out number 62. That was his limit.”
As it turns out, troublemaker Bo’s history is as unique as his appetite. In an ironic twist of every Water for Elephants-type melodrama we’ve ever been exposed to, Bo was born in captivity and kept as the pet of a private individual before being rescued by the circus. Yep, you read that right.
According to Cunningham’s account, Bo was having trouble in his environment and his owners just couldn’t quite figure out why. In came George Carden of George Carden International Circus, who immediately noticed three things: that Bo was bright, that Bo was intelligent, and that Bo still had his testicles and was going into musk.
“And that’s, you know, not a good combination for a 12,000 pound animal,” Cunningham explains.
We can only imagine.
After a 50,000-dollar surgery, Bo was back on his feet. Soon he became not only a star performer for George and his elephant-training son Larry, but a family member as well.
“I’ve been with George sitting from here to across the parking lot, and Bo is honking because he hears George just talking,” recalls Cunningham. “And George will go, ‘knock it off, son!’ And the elephant, 60 yards away, will honk back at him.”
See, folks? Looks like sometimes it’s okay to run away to the circus after all. To catch up with Bo, Cindy, and Jenny, be sure to grab tickets to the Shrine Circus. If you happen to find yourself backstage after the show, make sure you have red apples from El Rio Grande on hand—that’s their favorite snack.
Oh, and one last thing you should probably know:
“When you’re feeding them the sweet grain, they purr like a cat,” says Cunningham. “To feel love in a different way—a version of that is to have four elephant trunks around you.”
Now that’s the kind of spectacle that deserves to be called the greatest show on earth.