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What It Takes To Bring The Circus To Kansas City

Elle Moxley

How do you get 18 tigers, 20 horses, 16 poodles and a half-dozen Asian elephants to downtown Kansas City, Mo.?

By circus train, of course.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Assistant Animal Superintendent Ryan Henning says the logistics of bringing so many animals to town are almost as interesting as the show itself.

Henning answered a few of our questions while showing us around the temporary horse enclosures at the Sprint Center.

How do you get that many animals to town?

Ryan Henning: "These guys actually travel on the circus train in custom-designed stock cars, which are customized for each animal's individual needs. The elephants have heat in the wintertime, AC in the summertime, as do the horses."

Do all of the animals traveling with the circus perform in the show?

"I'd say about 90 percent of the animals that are traveling on the show do perform. It's interesting because we're finishing up this tour. We go on the road for two years, and we're starting our new production. So we do have some animals here that are in training for the new show that you won't actually see in this production."

Credit Elle Moxley / KCUR
The circus is traveling with a few Norwegian Fjord horses. Assistant Animal Superintendent Ryan Henning says the horses' manes look like that in the wild, 'but these guys look a lot nicer because they're bathed every single day.'

Are the animals always housed on-site like this?
"Half the time we house them inside, half the time we house them outside. Different space is provided to us at different venues. The weather plays a large role in whether we house them inside or outside. For example, this week we're housed inside except for the elephants."

What kind of a staff does it take to care for so many animals?

"The senior animal staff travels in RVs, and we live beside the horses, the elephants, the tigers to care for them. If a storm comes up in the middle of the night, we can step outside our RV and care for them."

How do you make animals into circus performers?

"It's a lot of reward and repetition. Kind of like your children at home or your pets at home, we start off when they're younger. From day one, we're building a relationship with them. Whether it's a horse, a tiger, an elephant, everything you see in the show is based on their playtime activities and their natural physical abilities."

Credit Elle Moxley / KCUR
An Arabian horse whinnies as trainers pass by.

Zoos get their animals from the wild and from captive breeding programs. Is it the same for the circus?

"Believe it or not, none of these animals come from the wild. All of our elephants are born and raised at our center for elephant conservation down in Florida."

As people become more conscientious about animal welfare, how do you alleviate concerns people have about animals performing in circus shows?

"We always encourage everyone to come out and see for themselves how well our animals are cared for. You can just look at our horses, our dogs, our elephants, our tigers and see for yourself how well they're cared for. We receive hundreds and hundreds of unannounced animal inspections from local, state and federal inspection agencies. We meet and exceed all state and federal requirements and regulations."

Elle Moxley covered education for KCUR.
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