Stacie Hunter chosen for elephant training program
PSC Grad Stacie Hunter sits atop one of the many elephants she tended during her training program with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey's Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida.
After attending Potomac State College of West Virginia University where she earned an associate degree in Equine Production and Management, Stacie Hunter wasn’t sure what she wanted to do next. She thought she had found her dream job when she began working as a zookeeper at the Perry Wildlife Zoo in Wardensville, W.Va., but unfortunately, the zoo closed in the fall of 2012.
However, while working at the zoo Hunter became involved with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) which would lead her to her next adventure.
After a year’s hiatus from working with animals, Hunter began scanning the AZA website for jobs when she came across a very unique ad for an elephant training program at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey's Center for Elephant Conservation (RBBBCEC). “I thought I would give it a shot and sent them my resume. One Skype interview, one flight to Florida and one face-to-face interview later and I got the job,” said Hunter excitedly. “Out of hundreds of applicants, I got the position! I was ecstatic!”
Hunter’s duties included cleaning multiple elephant barns, cutting and distributing elephant grass to more than 20 elephants, and bathing and exercising the elephants. “By interacting with them on a regular basis, I learned an incredible amount of things about elephants,” she stated. “Working with elephants is actually very similar to working with horses and the equine classes I had at Potomac State certainly prepared me for things I did in the elephant training program.”
The intensive, 10-week program is located at the RBBBCEC in central Florida and offers a unique learning opportunity that allows interns to work with experienced elephant care professionals.
Hunter relayed the following story about a baby elephant. “Elephants aren’t born knowing how to use their trunks; this is something they have to learn. A particular baby elephant I worked with would suck water into her trunk, but then didn’t know what to do with it next so you would see her trunk swinging all over the place and she would be spraying everyone around her. It was really funny sometimes watching them learn.”
During her training, Hunter had to climb to the top of an elephant and ride it, “Mounting an elephant is nothing like mounting a horse; most people think you get to use a ladder, but you don’t! I grabbed hold of the elephant’s headpiece with one hand and her ear with the other, as soon as I lifted my foot to her leg, she tossed me eight feet in the air to the top of her neck. I almost went all the way over the other side of her because she’s so powerful. Riding an elephant is way different than the horses I rode at Potomac State, but using my precious knowledge about riding horses I was able to balance myself and was the only person in the program that could balance while riding.”
Though Hunter is looking forward to her next adventure, she had this to say about her experience with the elephants, “When I saw the ad for this training position I never imagined myself working with elephants and now I'm stuck for life. I love these magnificent creatures; they have definitely changed my life forever!”