(Laura Simon) [Order this photo]
Bonnie and Mini are from India and Susie is from Thailand, rare among the circus' herd of 55 elephants. Most circus elephants, Esqueda said, are born in the United States.
The performer was stern only to give Bonnie, a 42-year-old weighing around 8,500 pounds, an order to stop picking foliage from the tips of a tree outside their fenced-in area behind the Show Me Center.
"Bonnie! Put it down!" said Esqueda, an elephant trainer for 36 years and in his second tour with The Greatest Show on Earth.
"They're all like children, that's how they act," he said. "It's like talking to a little kid. You can tell them 'no' or 'don't do that,' but as soon as you turn around they start doing it again."
The public can meet Esqueda and the three pachyderms, as well as see magic tricks, trapeze artists and stuntmen on motorcycles, when the circus opens today in Cape Girardeau. There are two shows today, three Saturday and one Sunday.
A lot of the elephants' performance is based on what they do in their natural state, too, Esqueda said.
"All elephants lay down, all elephants sit and they climb on each other when they play. They waltz, they dance. And headstands, they're a natural behavior when they're attacked by a predator or something," he said. "You determine which one is capable of doing what and then you put it in their routine."
Esqueda added that for the elephants performing is often like their time to play. And, again, like children, when they know they'll be rewarded they'll do more tricks, he said.
The trainer, formerly a trapeze artist in a different circus, recommends the public come when doors open -- an hour before each performance starts inside the Show Me Center.
Many of the show's performers take time to interact with families and especially children. Hans Klose, a dog trainer with the circus, said he'll also be out meeting the audience before each show. They can expect his Great Dane, Elvis, to participate in a magic trick during one of the shows.
"The show's magician makes a dog appear, too, and that's actually the start of our part of the show," Klose said Thursday. "All the acts are intertwined with magic."
Esqueda said any members of the public who come an hour before the show may be able to take photographs with some of the animals and could even be taught how to walk a tightrope.
"One of the elephants comes in and does a footprint for somebody to take home. Nowhere else can they have a chance to be that close to an elephant," he said.
Show times are 2 and 7 p.m. today, 11:30 a.m., 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are available at the Show Me Center ticket office and online at www.ticketmaster.com. A $5 parking fee will be collected from drivers parking in the venue's lot.
1333 N. Sprigg St., Cape Girardeau, MO