August 20, 2001 11:00 pm
READY TO PERFORM: Elephants get ready to take center stage st the Carson & Barnes Circus Sunday. (The Observer/DICK MASON).
READY TO PERFORM: Elephants get ready to take center stage st the Carson & Barnes Circus Sunday. (The Observer/DICK MASON).

By Dick Mason

Observer Staff Writer

The city of La Grande might need to drill a new well if the Carson & Barnes Circus, which appeared Sunday, stayed around much longer.

The reason: the 30 elephants with Carson & Barnes consume enough water every 24 hours to fill a small pond.

They each drink about 100 gallons of water a day, said Jason King, assistant superintendent of elephants for the circus.

Carson & Barnes gave two shows drawing a total of 2,600 people at the Union County Airport and went on to Pendleton Monday. The elephants appear in the shows and give rides to circus-goers throughout the day.

The oldest performer was a 58-year-old Asian elephant named Barbara. The animal is in good health and has a memory that shows there is truth to the expression that an elephant never forgets.

King recently asked the elephant to do a trick it had not done in 30 years. Barbara instantly remembered what she was supposed to do.

It is like learning to ride a bicycle (for people). Once they learn something, they never forget it, King said.

King has been handling elephants for Carson & Barnes for 10 years. The key to working with the pachyderms is time and patience.

It takes a lot of time to get to know them, King said.

Many are worth getting to know. One of Kings favorites is an elephant that gives him a high five. The animal lifts one of its front feet when it sees King. The animal handler then slaps the bottom of the elephants foot.

King has never been seriously injured while working with elephants, although his feet have been stepped on.

They are docile animals, King said.

Still, King always has some fear when he is around them.

You always have to be scared. When you are dealing with a 10,000-pound animal, anything can happen, King said.

Carson & Barnes elephants keep their weight up by eating about 300 pounds of food a day.

As long as an elephant is awake it will eat, said Tim Frisco, superintendent of the elephants.

Fifteen of the Carson & Barnes 30 elephants were in Union County Sunday.

King said that working with elephants is like dealing with young teen-agers. They are smart enough to know what they can get away with.

He noted that some elephants will respond to commands from one handler but not another. For example, some refuse to raise a foot for one handler but will quickly raise it for someone else.

The intelligence and varied personalities of elephants are among the many things King likes about them.

I love elephants. That is why I am doing this, he said.