When posters for the Circus start popping up around town, kids start asking questions. Some questions are about large animals, many are about poop, and most parents have no idea how to answer. Luckily, Kizzi Roberts, who travels country in an RV with her mutt Jack as part Ringling Brothers circus' veterinary team, is here to help.
Photo: Feld Entertainment
Kizzi answered some burning questions about elephants from the under-12 set and gave some advice on how to responsibly introduce children to animal care.
Agnes, age 9: Do the elephants make better friends with the other elephants or with their people trainers?
Kizzi: Some elephants get along well with certain elephants and some like to be alone. Trainers spend a lot of time with the elephants and form a special bond with them. It's hard to say if elephants make better friends with the other elephants or the trainers but all the elephants love to get attention and treats from their trainers.
Ben, age 6: What happens when an elephant poops during the show?
Kizzi: The show goes on around it while the animal caretakers quickly clean up the mess.
Julia, age 6: What do you do with all of the elephant poop?
Kizzi: Animal caretakers clean up the poop and throw it away.
Felix, age 7: Can any of the elephants in the circus paint?
Kizzi: Mabel is our painting elephant. She is 7-years-old and paints a picture before almost every show.
Jonathan, age 11: How do you train the elephants to stand on one foot?
Kizzi: I've not seen any of our elephants stand on one foot, but they do a lot of other tricks. All of the tricks our elephants perform in the act are based off of natural behaviors the elephants do on their own before they learn any commands. When a trainer sees an elephant do something interesting, like climb up on something, he or she will start to associate that movement with a command and reward the animal for doing the action. Eventually the animal associates the command with the action.
Sebastian, age 6: How much do elephants weigh?
Kizzi: On our unit, the youngest and smallest elephant weighs about 6,000 pounds while our heaviest elephant weighs about 11,000 pounds.
Helena, age 4: How do elephants march so quietly?
Kizzi: Elephant feet are big and have soft pads that allow them to move quietly. The pad is thick and tough so they can walk across a lot of different types of ground but do so quietly.
Kizzi also has several tips for introducing children to animals at a young age, even if they live in the city. If your child shows an interest in animals, Kizzi recommends taking them to park to find squirrels or to hands-on experiences at the zoo. Once children are older, volunteering at shelters, kennels, and veterinary clinics will provide children with hands-on experience with animals, as well as exposing them to critters beyond cats and dogs.
It is also possible to given children hands-on experience caring for animals, even as young as four. Kizzi recommends a hermit crab or a rabbit as a good first pet since they don't need a lot of attention. For kids of any age, Kizzi thinks rats make excellent pets because they are small, smart, enjoy attention from people, and are easy to care for.
Although Kizzi's own dog and companion on the road Jack only knows how to sit, she recommends teaching pets tricks to keep them stimulated.
Perhaps seeing some of the best-educated animals in the world will give your children some ideas for amazing animal tricks, spark an interest in animal care... or maybe raise some more questions about poop.