Life with Ringling Bros. elephants is fully charged 

Trudy Williams recalls that when she was in kindergarten, it was suggested she seek counseling because she told her class about some unusual animals at her home.

"To me, it was just natural to have an elephant in the backyard," says Williams, who grew up in Riverside, where her parents ran a business called Have Trunk Will Travel that supplied exotic animals for films.

It follows, then, that Williams would grow into her current position as manager of animal stewardship for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s Center for Elephant Conservation, a 200-acre facility promoting research and reproduction in central Florida.

She recently visited The City to talk about her work and the eight Asian elephants appearing in "Fully Charged," the Ringling Bros. show coming to Union Square, the Cow Palace and Oracle Arena next week.

"Asia is quite a ham; she loves the crowd," says Williams, describing the elephant who wows the audience during circus preshow segments in which she picks up a brush with her trunk and does a painting.

The female in her mid-40s, a natural in front of the camera and with the right temperament to do circus public relations, contrasts with a couple of her younger cohorts, Luna and Tonka, who are in their early 20s and slightly mischievous — the elephant class clowns of the circus.

For Williams, elephants are just like people.

"Every one is individual, and all have their own distinct personality," she says. Younger elephants are full of energy, sometimes excess energy, and, as with humans, their elders have less stamina, and things like toys are less important to them.

Training elephants is "quite easy," Williams says, adding that the animals are very intelligent, responding well to voices, particularly when the sounds are connected to a particular food the elephant enjoys.

Elephants at the conservation center don’t necessarily go out on the road to perform — females whose constitutions are most suited to show biz are the ones that travel with the circus.

Even after being around elephants for decades, Williams hasn’t tired of them. She still enjoys spending so much time with them, and being able to observe them at all different ages.

She does admit to a few downsides of her job: "There’s a lot of heavy lifting, some long hours and, and the intense heat you have to work in."



Fully Charged

Presented by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey

  • Where: Cow Palace, 2600 Geneva Ave., Daly City
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Sept. 2; 11 a.m., 3 and 7 p.m. Sept. 3; 1 and 5 p.m. Sept. 4; 11:30 a.m. Sept. 5


  • Where: Oracle Arena, 7000 Coliseum Way, Oakland
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 8-9; 11 a.m., 3 and 7 p.m. Sept. 10; 1 and 5 p.m. Sept. 11

 Tickets: $10 to $100

Contact: (800) 745-3000,

Note: A free sneak preview featuring performers from "Fully Charged" runs from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sept. 2 in Union Square, Post and Powell streets, San Francisco.

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Leslie Katz

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