"The Ringling Bros. Center has been blessed with more elephant calves than you can shake a trunk at – a total of 26 giant bundles of joy since Ringling Bros. initiated its conservation efforts in the early ‘90s. That’s no small feat, especially when one considers that female elephants have their reproductive cycles only four times a year and gestation lasts up to 22 months. In fact, many Asian elephant experts estimate that only two to four calves are born in the United States each year." - ElephantCenter.Com
Mike is the calf of Angelica and Romeo, both of whom were also born through the most successful Asian elephant breeding program in the Western Hemisphere, the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Center For Elephant Conservation®.
He is Angelica’s first calf but there is no first time Mommy fuss, no first time mommy muss. Mommy is a calm & patient parent by all accounts. There is no evident distress, behavior or indications that she has been treated with anything but kindness and care.
"Angelica is a great mother." smiles Trudy Williams, Manager of Animal Stewardship.
Angelica is not phased even remotely by the squeals of delight from the small group of onlookers.
"Been there. Done that. Yep, he's cute. Yep, I made him. Yep, I have bangs. Yep, I rock them." Angelica seems to say.
She is a vision and as mentioned above comes complete with wispy "bangs" that loll into her massive eyes. She is a sight! Baby Mike ambles to and from the safety of her underbelly.
He teases us, running close and then scurrying back to Mom. A PLAY DATE his frolicking steps seem to say!
He is curious about the onlookers fussing over his every move and casually throws us teasing glances as we "ooh" and "aw" over the serious cute factor in front of us. When's the last time you had a play date with an elephant? It's one you wouldn't dread, I promise!
Lil' man Mike determines that we might be an audience worth investigating and begins a clunky stroll to where we gather watching his every move. We stand there fixated trying to decide if this amazing moment is worth just experiencing or if an attempt to imprint it on film, is more wise. I think we all eventually decide, this moment, just cannot be documented.
Every move he makes, every toe that touches the ground sends collective gasps and even some giggles through our small group. Our delight signals a unanimous agreement, Mike the baby elephant is simply the cutest creature we have ever seen.
He runs along the thin wire fence allowing us to reach out to physically touch his wiry,wrinkly skin. It is an amazing feeling to not only touch but to be this close to an elephant. An elephant that will never be this age again.
We hand him carrots and he eagerly snatches them with all the patience of a 3 month old. We expect him to eat them as his Grandmother Icky had done on the previous stop. Instead, he gives them to his mother.
"He does not yet eat solid foods & still nurses from his mother. He mostly plays with the food." says Williams.
She seems to take on the role of a proud Aunt. Her knowledge is vast and her enthusiasm and care for these elephants, infinitely genuine. She wears elephant earrings and a bright silver elephant belt buckle. I suspect if given a sweatshirt stamped with the hoof prints of her charges, she'd wear it proudly until it could be worn no more.
She has worked with, cared for, trained and protected these & other animals for more than 20 years. While she herself boasts a love for her personal pets, (dogs and turtles) it is evident that she has a deep affinity for the elephants and her experiences with them have been life changing. Mike again grabs our attention. He is the child at the pool yelling, "Look at me Mom. Watch. Mom, watch. Mom are you watching. MOM! Watch!" He is bursting with energy, playful and rambunctious, surprising us with his level of curiosity. He reaches out with his trunk to touch a fellow group member and I nab some fantastic shots.
Once in a lifetime continues to repeat in my mind.
It's my turn to "meet" Mike. I bend down to call him over and he responds instantly. At such a young age he is already integrated with humans. There is no distrust.
While checking each other out, he sneaks a surprise trunk snuggle on me nearly knocking me off balance.
He is most assuredly, not a baby and his 400 lb snuggle reminds me that while cute, he is an formidable animal.
His growing frame is only a glimpse into the massive creature that he will someday become. Here at the RBBB Center For Elephant Conservation® (www.elephantcenter.com) he will possibly be a part of the ongoing breeding program that hopes to continue to preserve the dwindling Asian Elephant population.
"If we don't take an active part in the solution, we are a part of the problem." says Director of Animal Stewardship CEC, Janice Aria.
It is an experience like no other.
Next week, I'll continue this three part series with an article entitled, " Where Your Circus Dollars Go." I'll tell you what else I found at the Center For Elephant Conservation as well as address issues that we were given the opportunity to discuss with experts. This was just one stop of many, on an exclusive behind the scenes look at the CEC.
This is article 1 in a series of 3 articles to be written by Debby Perry, Macaroni Kid of Pittsburgh LLC regarding a visit to the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Center For Elephant Conservation. Please visit next week for the release of article #2.
Disclosure: Feld Entertainment invited a select group of national bloggers to tour the CEC. While accommodations and transportation were provided, no review was required nor any compensation received. My views are carefully expressed and shared honestly after my experience at the CEC.
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