There's more to the fair than elephant ears
Their names are Bunny and Libby.
They were surrounded Friday by a swarm of children as the massive creatures fanned their faces with their flappy, speckled ears. These 8,000-pound, 40-year-old Asian elephants are working the entirety of the Indiana State Fair.
Their cracked, gray skin was covered with long black hairs, similar in texture to the bristles of a toothbrush. Their massive trunks swept down and up again to push bundles of hay into their mouths. Occasionally one vocalized itself in a startling shriek that captured the attention of anyone within view of these gentle giants.
“It’s unique! It’s unusual! Once in a lifetime!” shouted a worker from the top of a metal staircase as he called fairgoers to try out the ride of a lifetime.
“Hop on up, buddy,” the man said to a grinning blond boy as he lifted him on top of Bunny. The boy smiled and gripped the red makeshift railing as the elephant began to walk at a slow and steady, nonchalant pace.
“It’s like foraging in the wild,” said Linda vonUhl, a board member of the Circus Hall of Fame. “They’re eating and moving, eating and moving.”
The elephants’ trainers walked with them in circles and gently guided them with a rod as well as a few commands to move up or turn around. Sometimes the elephants left before some ticket-buyers could make their way to the top of the staircase to climb on, and maneuvering in a small area required trainer guidance.
“I grew up in the circus, so it’s my way of life,” said elephant trainer Habib Omar, a fifth-generation member of the circus.
Children couldn’t contain their smiles as they rode around in a few circles atop these massive creatures—and even more excitement broke through when stepping off, legs wobbly but hearts racing.
“That’s the best part, when they get off and I get to see their smile,” vonUhl said.
Two adults laughed and took a selfie as they swayed with each step the elephant took. A boy in a white T-shirt and basketball shorts proclaimed, “That was so fun!” as he approached his family. Behind the boy trailed an elderly man who stepped off the metal staircase grinning from ear-to-ear.
“And look at the adults—they’re kids again,” vonUhl said.
Alex Kincaid is a writer for BSU Journalism at the Fair, a Ball State University immersive-learning project placing 25 student journalists at the heart of the Midway to tell the weird and wonderful stories of the 2014 Indiana State Fair.