Circus Elephants Retire At Conservation With Plenty Of Room To Roam

Elephants are fascinating creatures. They’re the largest living mammals on land and they also happen to be quite social animals, living in large family herds out in the wild.

These animals are often used in everyday life alongside humans, after being abused to the point of compliance. Elephants were and are often used as entertainment within circuses as well.

It wasn’t long ago that a herd of 12 Asian elephants were still performing in the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. However, CBS reported that in 2016, they were officially retired from circus life.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The circus had been using elephant performers for nearly 146 years until they eventually gave in to public pressure to retire the act. As a result, these 12 former circus elephants are now living out a wonderful retirement in Florida’s White Oak Conservation Center.

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The elephants had originally been moved to a small preserve that wasn’t far from Orlando, Florida. But eventually, the nonprofit, Walters Conservation, bought the 35 animals living at the preserve and constructed them a new habitat. The first 12 females, ranging in age from 8 to 38, were brought to the new reserve at the end of April 2021, and they’ve been living their best lives since.


The creation of sanctuaries and preserves is important, as conservation of these animals is critical. According to reports from WWF, elephants are endangered. In fact, they estimate that there are only between 40,000 to 50,000 Asian elephants in the wild – their numbers dwindling due to poaching, the ivory trade, and habitat loss.

Mark and Kimbra Walter, the founders of the conservation organization, released a statement that said, “We are thrilled to give these elephants a place to wander and explore. We are working to protect wild animals in their native habitats. But for these elephants that can’t be released [they are dependent on humans], we are pleased to give them a place where they can live comfortably for the rest of their lives.”

Photo: flickr/Jodie Gallagher

When the animals were first moved, they were brought in pairs and transported in specialized trucks. The elephants made the journey alongside veterinarians and elephant care specialists who monitored them in two acclimatization paddocks before they were allowed to roam free. But now, these elephants are living life to the fullest in the lush sanctuary and spend their days playing and swimming in the pond.

Nick Newby, leader of the White Oak’s expert team, stated in the press release that the moment the elephants got to go into their new habitat was a very moving experience. He said, “I was so happy to see them come out together and reassure and comfort each other, just like wild elephants do, and then head out to explore their new environment. Seeing the elephants swim for the first time was amazing.”

Michelle Gadd, who is in charge of the group’s conservation efforts, shared with CBS News that the elephants fit right in and began to act exactly as they would in the wild.

Photo: flickr/Smithsonian’s National Zoo

They formed a grouping and sorted out their own hierarchy rankings amongst themselves and started to live according to their natural instincts. She shared that it was “beautiful” to see these creatures acting the way that elephants should act. She also added that after years of them performing tricks and entertaining crowds in a circus environment, it was wonderful to see them being elephants again.

Steve Shurter, White Oak’s executive director, said in the press release, “In the last few years, everything has changed for these elephants for the better — from their retirement to the way they interact with humans and the space they have to roam. For the first time in their lives, these elephants can choose where and how they want to spend their days.”

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