Trunk Show

Under the big top with the elephants and their keepers

When Davison finally returns to the Target Center with four steel eyebolts, the elephant crew busies itself setting up the elephant picket: The stagehands screw the bolts into corresponding holes in the floor. Two long chains are threaded through the eye-holes, and buckled back on themselves, making a pair of parallel lines. Smaller chains with leg shackles connect to them. The handlers lead the cows out of the truck and into position. Each patiently lifts first a front and then a back leg while the handlers fasten shackles around their ankles. Then they resume their perpetual shifting, running their trunks back and forth over the concrete floor.

Jenny, Judy, and Nicky are all in the thirtysomething age range. They are curious about strangers, especially Nicky, who stretches her trunk out like a probe once she's on the picket. "The more intelligent an animal is, the more complex their personality," Davison says, watching her. "And elephants are probably the most intelligent four-legged land animal." This particular trio seems patient and gentle with their handlers, though that is a matter of training. "When you're doing the initial training when they're babies," says Davison, "a lot of times the first thing you teach them to do is tail up--to take the tail of the elephant in front of them so they can walk from place to place in a line. You use food rewards: little pieces of fruit, banana slices. And then at the end of each training session maybe a whole banana.

"Once you get a wild or exotic animal into a certain routine, if you want to change the routine, you have to have some time to rework it," he continues. "If you want to train an elephant to walk on the barrel, that's going to take some time. You have to work that elephant into the idea that, number one, walking on the barrel is an okay thing to do: You put the blocks underneath the barrel to keep it from rolling, and coax them into standing on it. You just gradually move from one thing to the next, and before the elephant knows it, after a couple of weeks they're walking the barrel."

If he had his druthers, Davison would spend the week hanging around the elephant picket. But even before they are off the truck, his next crisis has arrived: The bear act blew a head gasket and is blocking rush hour traffic outside. He scurries off to rescue them. Before the circus packs up and moves on to the next show, Davison's pager will have gone off a hundred times, and he'll have solved twice that many problems. But he says he thrives on the stress, and his proximity to the spotlight. On the police force, he says, "I'm working in a unit that investigates cases nobody cares about and nobody wants to know about. It's not high-profile cases like homicides and robberies. It's this little dark corner of life. Anything that gets me out of there is a welcome change."

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