A herb of 35 Asian elephants who spent their lives performing at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circuses will be able to live out their lives in retirement in a new habitat at Florida’s White Oak Conservation Center, CBS News reported on Wednesday, May 5.

The first twelve elephants of the herd have been sent to the new sanctuary, they were transported 200 miles in customized trucks, with vets and animal care specialists traveling with the special cargo, White Oak explained.

This is the happy ending that animal activists were expecting, especially as the life for circus elephants is centered around performances that come from tough training behind the scenes. They are kept either behind bars or chained.

“A lot of kids have this dream of running away and joining the circus,” said conservationist Michelle Gadd. “Well, I was that kid who wanted to run away and let all the animals out of the circus.”

Elephants had been a part of the Ringling and Barnum & Bailey circus’ since their beginning 146 years ago. Finally, after many years of public outcry and work of animal activists, they were retired from their performing acts in 2016.

Over the past five years, they have been kept at a small reserve in the south of Orlando. Walter Conservation heard of the herd last fall. They bought the elephants and began a wildlife sanctuary project for the retirees.

The White Oak Elephant Project is headed by conversationist Nick Newby, who told CBS the elephants were unable to be released into the wild, as they had been reared in captivity. He knows them all by name, as he works with them every day.

“The best thing for these animals is to live in a complex environment that’s pretty darn close to the wild, honestly,” Newby said, adding that he wants to ensure the circus retirees could enjoy “a holistic life and a complete life” in this new home.

Gadd observed that the elephants have already started acting as a real herd.

“They seem to have sorted out a hierarchy amongst themselves. They regrouped right outside the fence and again reassured each other. Rumbled, touched each other, put their trunks in one another’s mouths,” she said.

Gadd hopes people will be able to appreciate the elephants in their new environment.

“They don’t need to be ridden or trained or do tricks or travel the world,” she said. “Just let them be where they are and there’s nothing more beautiful than that.”

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