Cora is an Asian elephant with Elephant Encounter, a traveling elephant program based out of Tampa, Fla., that’s currently showing at the Freeborn County Fair. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune
Cora is an Asian elephant with Elephant Encounter, a traveling elephant program based out of Tampa, Fla., that’s currently showing at the Freeborn County Fair. – Colleen Harrison/Albert Lea Tribune

Elephants entertain at fair

Published 10:29am Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A nose by any other name …

They’re family.

That’s what Cora and Shannon, two elephants, are to Bill and Cindy Morris.

The couple, who have been married for almost 37 years, have been putting on shows with the elephants for about 25 years. Cora, a 54-year-old Asian elephant, has been with Bill since he was a child. Shannon, a 33-year-old African elephant, was adopted by the Morrises at 18 months.

The Morrises’ program, “Elephant Encounter,” aims to educate and entertain audiences through showcasing the natural agility and intelligence of the animals. The elephants don’t do tricks, they show off their personalities, according to their owners.

According to Cindy, the show is on the road for about four to five months out of the year at different fairs, festivals and other events.

Cindy considers both elephants to be rescues. She said Asian elephants like Cora are no longer being brought over to the United States and haven’t been since 1979, as the Vietnam War wiped out a large number of the species. Shannon was rescued young because she was part of a herd that was being culled due to problems with villagers in Africa. The older elephants would be poached while the infants were sold overseas.

“It’s lucky that they’re here,” Cindy said.

Cindy also said it’s lucky that Cora was and has been extremely motherly to Shannon. African elephants haven’t been domesticated nearly as long as Asian elephants have, and Cindy said there’s still a learning process going on the longer African elephants spend in captivity.

The elephants thrive on knowing and trusting their owners. Because of this, Cindy said that either she or Bill is almost always with the elephants.

“They’re not the type of animals that you can just leave with a friend for a few hours,” she said. “It doesn’t work that way.”

When not on the road, Shannon and Cora live in a barn on the Morrises’ property in Tampa, Fla., along with four Chihuahuas and two parrots.

Elephant Encounter has come to Albert Lea for the third year in a row, and will have multiple showings throughout fair week.

“Come out and see it,” said Cindy. “It’s great seeing the expressions on people’s faces. It’s not like looking at them in cages at a zoo, or from far away at a circus. It’s more real.”