TAMPA Downtown motorists got a bit of a jolt Saturday afternoon – a pachyderm parade marched from Union Station toward the Forum.
The tradition known as the Elephant Walk marks the official start of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which opens Wednesday.
The elephants were unloaded at railroad tracks beside Nuccio Parkway, next to Union Station. Then they marched in a single-file line, followed by horses and ponies, along city streets to the arena.
Taylor Townley, 10, of Brandon, came to Tampa with her father and 7-year-old brother to watch the circus animals.
The fifth-grader at Valrico Academy has lots of pets at home – two dogs, a cat, six rabbits, three bearded dragon lizards, two turtles and a gecko – and likes elephants "because they're big." She previously had seen elephants at a circus, but until Saturday never had watched one step off a train and walk along a city street.
The circus starts Wednesday with a 7:30 p.m. show and ends Jan. 5 with two afternoon shows. The 143rdedition of The Greatest Show On Earth has a new theme: Built to Amaze!
The show at the Forum, according to the circus' website, features feats of strength, courage and agility. There will be clowns and high wire acts.
"Circus performers from across the globe create the perfect blend of athleticism and bravery, where power meets fearlessness and amazement has no bounds," the website states. "Magnificent elephants, ferocious tigers, astonishing acrobats and awe-inspiring aerialists are engineered into one spectacular performance."
Tickets range from $16 to $100. For information about the circus, go to www.ringling.com.
The show comes to town after the settlement of a 12-year legal battle between the circus and The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The ASPCA agreed to pay $9.3 million to the circus' owners, according to court documents.
The litigation stemmed from allegations of elephant abuse the ASPCA made against the circus.
Steve Payne, spokesman for Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus, said the lawsuit has cost his company $20 million through the years.
In January 2010, U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan ruled in favor of Ringling Bros., finding a former Ringling employee, Tom Rider, did not have legal standing to sue the circus.
The U.S. District Court of Appeals in Washington upheld Sullivan's ruling, finding Rider was "essentially a paid plaintiff" because he received at least $190,000 from the animal rights activists pursuing the case.