Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's Circus is in Raleigh this weekend. Ringling Bros. announced in January it would permanently retire its elephants to its 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida in May.
It's fascinating the reason for this change - cancer research. It seems elephants rarely develop cancer based on research by Dr. Joshua Schiffman, a pediatric cancer specialist at the University of Utah. Feld Entertainment (the parent company for the circus) announced in October it will partner with Salt Lake City's Intermountain Primary Children's Hospital and Dr. Schiffman for more research.
The research requires regular blood draws from the elephants - a simple process, a little butterfly needle and the blood is drawn from the veins in their ears. Cancer is much less common in elephants than in humans, even though the big animals' bodies have many more cells. That's a paradox known among scientists, and now researchers think they may have an explanation one they say might someday lead to new ways to protect people from cancer.