Although the crowd is thrilled with all the animals at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, there is one that stands out. Bo, billed as the smartest Asian elephant in the world, thrills all as he performs his many tricks.
Bo is the star of the 131st year of The Greatest Show on Earth. He plays a horn and a harmonica, balances on a beam, rolls a barrel, throws a football and soccer ball and dances.
He has appeared on the NFL Monday Night football halftime show in Tampa Bay, Fla., and like the former football star Bo Jackson, Bo knows how to do it all.
Like any star, Bo receives royal treatment. He has a special elephant shampoo and a personal power washer. He feeds on apples and carrots and loves sweets, especially doughnuts.
While other circus animals travel by train, the 13-year-old elephant has his own tractor-trailer, driver, personal trainer and groom who travel with him. His bright yellow 2000 Sterling daycab, leased from Penske, pulls his colorful trailer, decorated in the circus theme. He inherited his trailer from King Tusk, who was the world’s largest elephant.
Mike Hickey of Louisville, Ky., has driven Bo for a year. According to Hickey, driving a trailer that contains a 10,000-pound elephant can be tricky at times.
“It’s not really difficult,” Hickey says. “He rides back there pretty smooth. I can feel him swinging back and forth but not too much. It’s like driving a half-full water truck.”
Hickey says driving at slow speeds and maneuvering through sharp turns in construction areas is when he feels Bo’s weight the most.”When we’re moving left and right, it’s hard to keep 10,000 pounds still, so he’s always moving with me,” Hickey says.
Larry Carden, of Springfield, Mo., is Bo’s personal trainer. He says Hickey is an excellent driver and that transporting an elephant is different than transporting general freight.
“When Bo moves, I feel the trailer move with him,” Carden says. “He handles the truck well, especially considering his cargo isn’t stationary.”
Carden has trained elephants for eight years.There are 13 other elephants in the show, but Bo takes top priority since he’s the star of the show. Carden’s living quarters are in the front of the trailer while Bo lives in the rear. A wall separates them, but they are together constantly.
“It’s cool because I can open my door and see Bo,” Carden says. “I’ve known Bo since I was a kid. He’s intelligent and picks up things easily. He’s like a little brother to me. Bo and I grew up together.”
Hickey has several amusing stories about Bo. Once he stopped at a truckstop outside Greenville, S.C., and the truckstop refused to wash Bo’s trailer because there was an animal inside. When Hickey got out of the truck, the driver behind him asked why his trailer was moving back and forth.
“Even when we stop the trailer is always moving. Some people are taken aback because of that,” Hickey says.
Hickey’s first priority is providing the star with a safe ride. He does this by getting plenty of sleep and eating properly. The trailer gains a lot of attention when they stop, so at night, Hickey tries to park in a quiet area. Hickey gets a hotel room, and Carden and Bo sleep in the trailer. The groom either stays in the hotel or sleeps on the ground in a sleeping bag.
Bo has to be watered and washed down throughout the day, and in warmer weather, he requires more water. Sometimes it’s a challenge to find a place to water an elephant, and Hickey often stops at truckstops and rest areas where there is a faucet to connect the hose.
“One night, we parked outside a Chinese restaurant that had closed down,” Hickey says. “The next morning we looked for water, and there was an outdoor shower that hadn’t been turned off so we connected the hose to the shower head to water Bo. We also leave the windows open in the trailer so that Bo will have plenty of air in warm weather.”
Another time, Hickey stopped at an agricultural station as he was leaving Florida. The official asked for a trunk-washing certificate, but Hickey thought he asked for a truck-washing certificate. When the confusion cleared, Hickey searched his truck and found the appropriate paper.
“It’s something new every day,” Hickey says. “The certificate permits you to wash inside the elephant’s trunk to prevent disease. I wasn’t aware I even had it until he asked for it.”
Although he hauls a star, Hickey says he’s never seen Bo perform and downplays his role in caring for Bo.
“I should see him perform since he’s my cargo, and maybe I will before the year is up,” Hickey says. I’m just the parking lot maintenance guy who’s never seen. I just do my job.”
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