Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Elephant walk gives L.A. something to trumpet [Updated]

....Photo: Electrician Bob Horton heads to work as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's elephants walk by on their way to Staples Center. Credit: Jake Stevens / Los Angeles Times....

4:50 AM | July 7, 2009

This wasn't your typical Tuesday morning commute, well, unless you're used to seeing more than 100,000 pounds of freight take to the streets of L.A. at 4 a.m. in the form of 11 Asian elephants.

It's the beginning of a several-mile elephant walk from a train stop off of 25th and Alameda to an animal enclosure at Staples Center. The journey is part of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, which starts Wednesday evening.

Trainers surrounded the line of elephants, which walked trunk to tail, with each elephant holding onto their leader's tail with its trunk. Some of the elephants were branded with stars on their backs, which meant they were purchased from a previous owner. Handlers directed the animals by issuing commands in various languages including French, German and Spanish.

The elephants were followed by seven horses and trainers walking briskly to keep up with the animals. About 16 LAPD officers assisted the walk.

Jan Perry, acting mayor and city councilwoman, sat in her car with a smile on her face as she watched the elephants trek along Washington Avenue in the wee hours of the morning. She woke up at 3 a.m. to catch a rare glimpse of the animals.

"I wanted to come down and see how this worked because I've never seen it before," she said. "I'm impressed at how quiet they are."

The elephant walk and circus have been coming to L.A. streets since 1922, said Andy Perez, a spokesman with the circus.

[Updated 5:20 a.m.: As the animals inched, or rather, trotted, closer and closer to the purple glow of Staples Center, more and more bystanders stood on sidewalks snapping mementos with camera phones. For a moment, Michael Jackson wasn't the main attraction of the day.

Even police officers were taking photos with cameras and phones. The not-so-lucky officers were pedaling alongside the elephants as a means of security and control.

By this time, handlers and the media were sweating from keeping up with the elephants, who walk faster than expected.

Lupe Andrade, of Montebello, was dropping a friend off at Staples Center for a 6 a.m. shift and happened to spot the elephants and horses as they walked by. She said it was a pleasant surprise. "The cop just said don't move," she said.

Regardless, Andrade encountered an unexpected benefit in doing a friend a favor by driving her to work.

"It's awesome," she said. "I thought they were for Michael."]

-- Nicole Santa Cruz in downtown Los Angeles