This article appeared in the June 01, 2021 edition of the Monitor Daily.

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A well-deserved retirement for hardworking pachyderms

Andrew Kelly/Reuters/File
Performing elephants wait to appear in their final show for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, May 1, 2016. Some of the elephants are now free to roam at White Oak Conservation center in Yulee, Florida.
Trudy Palmer
Cover Story Editor

Hiking, swimming, fruit buffets. It’s the latest in retirement living for former Ringling Bros. circus elephants at White Oak Conservation center, in Yulee, Florida, where a dozen Asian elephants recently arrived.

The 17,000-acre sanctuary, owned by Mark and Kimbra Walter, is “dedicated to the conservation and care of endangered and threatened species,” including rhinoceros, okapi, zebras, condors, and cheetahs, its website explains. 

Through their Walter Conservation philanthropy, the Walters primarily work to protect 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,” the couple said in a press release.  

Ringling Bros. retired its elephants in 2016, about a year and a half before it ended circus operations entirely. The animals landed in a reserve in Polk City, Florida, owned and run by Feld Entertainment, Ringling’s parent company, until Walter Conservation took over the facility last year. A few elephants not able to make the move will remain there, but most will eventually enjoy water holes, grasslands, forests, and wetlands on the 2,500 acres set aside for them at White Oak.

Meanwhile, the first 12 elephants to arrive appear to be very much at home, enjoying dust baths and naps in the sun.

“It’s magnificent for these animals to get to experience a large and complex place like this in their lives,” Nick Newby, head of White Oak's elephant caretaker team, told The Washington Post.

After years of performing, these pachyderms have earned some time in a Sun Belt paradise.

This article appeared in the June 01, 2021 edition of the Monitor Daily.

Read 06/01 edition
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