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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Circus elephants feel right at home in downtown Phoenix


PHOTO BY: Amrah Canul/The Arizona Repulic

by Kellie Mejdrich
from:  tucsoncitizen.com
Jun. 26, 2012
Three circus elephants got a quick scrub and a watermelon popsicle Tuesday as they prepared to wow the Valley this week.
 A group of female Asian elephants in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus swung their trunks languidly in the early-morning sun as trainers scrubbed their hides with blue brushes and moisturizing elephant soap.
After giving the giant animals a quick lather and rinse, trainers slid bucket-size popsicles made of water and chunks of watermelon — rinds and all — onto the concrete behind US Airways Center in downtown Phoenix. The elephants smashed the treats with their feet, curled pieces into their trunks, and lifted bites to their mouths before the ice could melt.
Sixteen-year-old Kelly Ann, the youngest of the three, occasionally snuck a poke in the ear to Nicole, 34, who pretended not to notice.
 “They’re all like a big family, but you know, sometimes family drives you crazy,” said Nichole Garza, production manager for the blue unit of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. “That’s why we have people with them every second of the day.”
Sometimes, younger ones can bother the older elephants like Karen, 44, who also got a rinse today, Garza said.
 
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PHOTO BY: Amrah Canul/The Arizona Repulic
Joey Frisco hoses down Nicole, an Asian elephant, at the US Airways Center in Phoenix. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has its first show Wednesday, June 27, at the venue.

“If the young ones are playing too much, and Karen’s, like, ‘Dude, I’m over it,’ we can say ‘OK, you guys play over here. Karen, you can go take a nap over here,’ ” Garza said. “People really dedicate their entire lives to the elephants.”
 People such as Joey Frisco, 28, a senior elephant handler with the circus. He’s the third generation of elephant handlers in his family and travels the circuit with his wife and kids.
 Elephants have special needs: They drink 50 to 150 gallons of water and eat 100 to 300 pounds of food a day, Frisco said. And as the second-smartest animal in the world, he said, they need mental stimulation, too. “You have to spend a lot of time with them. It’s a 24/7 job. I have four kids and a wife and, sometimes, I think I forget about them,” Frisco said.
 But, in the end, it’s a lifestyle that he’s glad to share with his family, he said.
“When you grow up around one of the most amazing animals in the world, how can you not work with them?” Frisco asked. “It’s not a job, it’s your life. I wouldn’t want my kids to grow up any other way.”

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