Visiting circus says “show must go on” with elephants in Davenport

DAVENPORT -

Just days after The Greatest Show on Earth folded its tent for good, a touring circus vows to preserve shows under the Big Top with elephants.

Garden Brothers Circus is performing four shows over Tuesday, May 23 and Wednesday, May 24, at the Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds in Davenport. Performances are at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. each day.

Backstage on Tuesday morning, Bonnie and Libby really are the elephants in the room.

"She's 50, and she's 49," gestured trainer Habib Omar, a fifth generation circus performer.  "They've been around before I was even born."

The veteran showgirls are ready for their daily inspection from Scott County officials.

"They've not wild animals," Omar continued.  "I call them civilized animals."

Omar, though, faces less than civil criticism over using elephants in the circus.  It follows him at every stop on the lengthy tour.

"I receive threats on Facebook and places like that," he continued.  "Things like, people should shoot me, and I'm a horrible person.  I should be in jail."

Hours before two performances, this bus-and-truck troupe of 50 is defying the odds -- and threats -- by providing old-school entertainment with a high-tech touch.

"We do the shows," said Ringmaster Devin Chandler.  "It's just kind of busy, busy, busy."

They're on the road from January to July, criss-crossing the country with a passion for performing.

Chandler, 42, is into his second decade as a singing illusionist. He performs each night with his wife, Sarah.

"When we get that 'ooh' and that 'ah,' that response, that's very gratifying," he said.

But outside the cheering, bright lights and one-night stands, criticism over using elephants also beats louder.

Omar, 43, is the last in his family to perform.  And it's clear that he really worries about what's down the road for himself and the elephants.

While he hopes they will stay in the show, nobody really knows how long they'll continue.

"People say, 'Oh, finish the circus," he concluded.  "What am I going to do? What are they (elephants) going to do?"

At least on this day, after passing their exams, the show will go on for Bonnie and Libby.