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2004 circus will roll out traditional animal walk

Officials say construction and railroad changes won't interfere with the parade that showcases elephants and horses.

By AMY SCHERZER
Published January 2, 2004

The new year is here and with it comes the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

The 134th edition of the Greatest Show On Earth will perform Wednesday through Jan. 11 at the St. Pete Times Forum featuring Ringmaster Kevin Venardos and female vocalist Danette.

In preparation for the show, circus members will march pachyderms and more than a dozen horses in the show from the railroad tracks to the Forum on Monday in the traditional animal walk starting at 2 p.m., said circus spokesman Larry Kellogg.

Four of the Asian elephants in the parade are Polk County natives. Bonnie, Juliette, Angelica and Kelly Ann were born at the Center for Elephant Conservation.

Some circus enthusiasts were afraid the colorful walk might be rerouted due to construction of the Meridian Street ramp along the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway.

Not so according to Kellogg, who said Monday he was unaware of any changes to the plan. The circus will unload the stock cars along Meridian Street near the intersection of Twiggs, south of the Amtrak depot, he said.

"Rail transportation is the key and always has been for 134 years," he said. "The train is over a mile long, 57 railroad cars. Four animal cars carry zedonks, elephants, horses, llamas and camels and many other animals. The flat cars haul equipment and performers and workers live on the passenger cars."

The Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority last year took over jurisdiction of the CSX tracks lining Meridian Street. The tracks only serve ConAgra. This week the authority was working on provisions for the circus to unload the animals at Meridian, said PerryDawn Brown, the authority's director of communication and business development.

The tracks will be removed in the next five to 10 years, she said, "depending on when ConAgra finds a new home."

The circus has performed at the Forum every year since 2000. Previously, when it was held at the Florida State Fairgrounds, the animals paraded from the railroad tracks at Route 574 under the U.S. 301 overpass to the fairgrounds, Kellogg said. They walked down Broadway Avenue to the Orient Road entrance.

"Its quite a process, with about 100 logistics men on each show," he said.

- Amy Scherzer can be reached at 226-3332 or scherzer@sptimes.com

If you go

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performs Jan. 7-11 at the St. Pete Times Forum. Tickets cost $13.75-$29.75. For information, call 301-6500.

[Last modified December 31, 2003, 10:01:52]

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