Generally speaking, Philadelphia in wintertime is not a good environment for the noble Asian elephant. It’s too cold, the houses are too close together, and our murder rate is too high for them ever to feel comfortable. But Ringling Bros Circus, traveling as much as they do, have pretty much solved at least one of those problems.
“They probably don’t even know what’s happening outside,” says elephant handler Joey Frisco, 30. “Unless we open the door and it breezes too much.”
Frisco, a third-generation animal handler at Ringling Bros., is referring to the elephant enclosure, which counts as just about the warmest spot in the stadium parking lots on this frigid winter’s day. And at about 140 feet long by 40 feet wide, it’s a full-time job keeping it heated.
Using a combination of torpedo propane heaters in the front of the enclosure and much larger, fireless ones out back, the 15-person handler team is able to keep the elephants comfortable at a temperature between 70 and 75 degrees. Problem is, keeping those pachyderms toasty eats upwards of 100 gallons of fuel every six hours. That’s just one tent, so you can imagine how much combustible fluid is flowing through Ringling’s operation daily.
But, of course, all that propane is necessary because in the event of show cancelations and inclement weather like we've seen lately, the elephant tent is where they stay planted all day—unless trainers take them to the show floor for some exercise. Frisco, however, says he won’t be taking out his animals in this mess.
Instead, the elephants—nine females—will stay inside and hang out, Frisco feeding them loaves of bread. Unfortunately, though, Ringling Bros. wasn’t able to secure the usual toys for their elephants.
“Usually we have branches and bamboo for the elephants, but all the tree companies in the area were too busy to give us any,” Frisco said. So it goes, my be-trunked friends.
No worries, though. With senior and junior handlers around at all times—and with other handlers bunked up about 20 feet away—boredom likely won’t be an issue for these elephants. Much less the cold.