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By Jack and Helen Ofield,

July 31, 2017 (Lemon Grove) -- Once upon a time in America, the circus came to town with the elephants everyone loved. Those midsummer days are gone. After 146 years as a circus -- older than baseball and Coca-Cola -- Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus closed this year after retiring its five huge stars in 2016 to join 27 others at the Ringling Brothers Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida. The oldest is 70; the youngest, three; many were born in captivity. Ringling spends about $65,000 a year on each elephant. No such luck in the smaller circuses still roaming the country. No such luck for those still in "the wild," where poaching, disease and deforestation spell death for the endangered elephant.

Jack has painted The Ringling Five:  Tonka, 11,000 pounds; Luna, 8,200 pounds; Asia, 7,900 pounds; and the kids, still growing, April, 6 and Mable, 10, seen prancing in the background.  In Thailand (where Ringling also conducts elephant research), Jack filmed Thai trainers and their teak forest elephants and vividly recalls the "elephant whisperers," who worked one trainer to an elephant for life.  At night the elephants were turned loose in the jungle to forage, but, mysteriously, they always returned in the morning for an affectionate reunion with their trainers and a busy day with teak logs.

Contrary to the views of some hard-line organizations, this is not an either-or situation.  Our huge friends are gone, some to an uncertain fate, some to languish in amateur circumstances, a precious few to safe havens.

Free at last?

The opinions expressed in this editorial reflect the views of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine.  To submit an editorial for consideration, contact


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