Terry Friscoe, a fourth generation elephant trainer, hoses an elephant on the day of a performance. The performing elephants go through the bathing process daily, a routine that takes close to 45 minutes.
Trainer Ryan Henning attaches a head piece to an elephant shortly before a performance at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes Barre. The circus had long since left the traditional tent show behind, opting for arenas to fit larger crowds.
The elephants walk toward the rear of the arena to perform. The Ringling Circus has a number of outfits that consecutively travel through the United States, each with their own herd of Elephants.
A circus attendee watches on as his sons pet an elephant in a display set up by PETA outside the circus’ entrance. The decision to retire the elephants was largely in part due to PETA’s campaign against the circus for their use of elephant. Protests like this were constant features at Ringling Circus’.
People pose with tier child on an elephant at a photo booth in the concourse of the Ringling Circus. The elephants were something of a mascot for the circus with many people coming out to celebrate their last appearances. Their final performance in Wilkes Barre was sold out.
An elephant uses it’s trunk to paint a picture before a show. The paintings were awarded to prize winners who attended the pre-show section of the circus.
Elephants take a dust bath on sand spread across the car park of the Mohegan Sun arena, replicating the dust baths they would take in their natural environment.
The gift shop sold a large selection of elephant themed merchandise, but would cease to do so when the elephants were retired.
Attendees to the pre-show performance were allowed access to the floor to get up close to the elephants as they performed in a smaller ring.
Senior elephant trainer Ryan Henning pauses as he is interviewed by a local television network on the third last day of elephant performances. Henning and other trainers like him at Ringling would move from working with elephants to other performing animals in the circus, such as lions and horses.
Elephant crew member Adria Cuellar holds the trunk of an elephant before a performance. Many members of the crew had strong bonds with the elephants and were deeply saddened by them leaving their every day lives once retired.
Elephants are kept undercover in a freight entrance with light rain falling intermittently.
Clowns watch on as the elephants are prepared for their final performances. Many of the performers within the circus, some generational, saw the retirement of the elephants as the end of an era in the circus’ long history.
Ringmaster David Shipman watches on as a performing elephant is ridden into its final performance to the American national anthem.
Elephant trainer Ryan Henning stands by as a performing elephant kicks a ball into the crowd on the last day of performances.
The elephants perform a headstand as part of the show. Where critics pointed to the exploitation of the elephants, trainers argued they were merely encouraging elephants to recreate actions they would naturally perform in the wild.
The elephants exit the arena on their final day of performances.
Senior Elephant Handler Alex Petrov strokes an elephant after the final performance.
The elephants are loaded onto a truck to be taken to the Ringling Elephant Sanctuary in Florida. There, the elephants would be part of a new research into cancer drugs and prevention. Cancer in elephants is a rarity and researchers now had access to the Ringling elephants to find out why.