By JULIA ROBERTS GOAD
Like many children, Cathy Cardin grew up in a home filled with animals, but not the usual cats, dogs and hamsters.
Cardin grew up with elephants, and today continues that tradition with her own children.
“I was raised on the circus,” she said. “Now, my brother and I are still circus people, traveling 45 weeks a year.”
Cathy and her elephants will be in Pikeville, Ky., this week with the Greatest Show on Earth, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus.
Cardin said her mother was a “true animal lover,” and raised elephants, feeding them with a bottle.
“She slept with the babies,” she explained. “You can’t leave them alone, just like human babies. We grew up in a farm-like setting. As a kid, I remember even trying to train a chameleon.”
Cathy, and her husband Brett, work with Asian elephants, as well as dogs and ponies.
“We can train adult animals, but it is much easier to work with babies,” she said. “It’s easier to teach tricks to a 300-pound animal than a 8,000-pound one. We often get dogs from a pound, but prefer them to be a bit older, puppies are hard to work with, like a human infant would be.”
But, she said the process is similar.
“You have to learn to communicate in their way, with rewards, affection and repetition,” she said. “When they do ‘get it,’ you can see the light bulb go off.”
Asian elephants have been affected by the loss of their habitat, and are on the endangered species list. The Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation was established in 1995. Located in central Florida, this 200-acre, $5-million, state-of-the-art facility is dedicated to the conservation, breeding and understanding of the animals.
With less than 35,000 Asian elephants remaining in the world, animal conservationists say it requires programs such as the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation to ensure the Asian elephant population is guaranteed a long and safe future.
Cathy said animals who live in a protected environment such as the circus have a longer life expectancy that elephants in the wild.
“We can give them veterinary care, and they have a job to do, which helps them thrive,” she told the Daily News. “They have a much better life here than they do in a zoo.”
Cathy said her 2-year-old and 4-year-old children don’t think much about their unusual lifestyle.
“We have a nursery for the younger children,” she explained. “My kids are not impressed by the elephants. People want to make elephants seem different than other animals, but really they’re not. You just have to build a relationship with them.”