Where Pachyderms Go To Pack It In

It's a familiar American story: After years on the job, workers retire and head to Florida to start a new life.

As CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman discovered, it's also were pachyderms go when it's time to pack it in. The retirees at the Center for Elephant Conservation not only start a new life, they sometimes start new families.

Hartman reports the hardest part of doing the story was finding it. The directions to the center were so cryptic, he drove right past the place — twice.

Janice Aria, who is with the center, explains, "This is not open to the public. This is very private here. This is only for invited guests, because what we try to do is maintain the privacy for the elephants."

The center is funded by the Ringling Brothers Circus. It serves as a place for their older elephants to retire or, better yet, start a family — hey, they're not that old.

Asian elephants are dwindling in the wild. But in central Florida, of all places, they're absolutely thriving. In just 11 years, they've had 20 babies.

Says Arias, "We have the most diverse gene pool in North America, and the only self-sustaining elephant herd in North America."

Because these elephants are all used to people, it's easy to get really up close, says Trudy Williams, one of the caretakers. Standing with one of the elephants, she explains, "the trunk is basically used as their lifeline, it's their hand, it's their nose."

"The elephants I take care of are basically like members of my family," Williams says.

Some of the elephants born at the center eventually will follow in their parents' giant footsteps and join the circus.

But only about one in three has what it takes. Most will just stay at the center in what certainly appears to be the lap of luxury. After all, happy elephants make more elephants. In fact, the stork paid a visit just last month, delivering a bouncing 295-pound baby girl.

The baby doesn't have a name yet, and it's too early to say if she'll make it in the circus. But thanks to the center, baby and mother — and hopefully species — do at least now have a future.



Clarification: All elephants born at the Center for Elephant Conservation are used in the circus, but Ringling Brothers says not all of them become regular performers. As of June 2006, 19 of the center's herd of 55 elephants were on the road.


  • Tricia McDermott

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