Animals a big part of the circus in Florence shows

March 4, 2019

FLORENCE, S.C. – Elephants, camels, zebras and other animals are among the attractions at the Royal Hanneford Circus’s five shows at the Florence Center this weekend.

Ringmaster Timothy Tegge said animals have been a large part of the circus for more than 200 years.

“That’s what the public comes to see. It’s amazing to see them,” Tegge said. “My family owned and operated a circus from the time I was 3 years old. I didn’t have a pet dog, but I was surrounded by elephants, horses, zebras and things like that.”

Tegge said multiple trainers travel with the Royal Hanneford Circus.

Jennifer Herriott Walker, a fifth-generation animal trainer, works with a variety of animals, including camels, zebras and llamas, in the 2019 tour of the Royal Hanneford Circus.

“It’s a nonstop job, year-round, 24/7, every day of the year,” Walker said. “Every morning we wake up and the first thing we do in the morning and the last thing we do at night we take care of our animals. It’s definitely a lot of work, but it’s a labor of love.”

Walker said she cherishes the animals.

“You know I love my animals, and they put food on my table and pay my bills so I’m going to treasure them and love them and take very good care of them,” Walker said.

Generations of Walker’s family have worked with the Hanneford family circus, she said. Walker’s grandfather John Herriott trained 16 liberty horses for Nellie Hanneford almost 20 years ago.

“They made their debut here in Florence in this building, opening debut,” Walker said. “Nellie was telling me about how nervous she was this (Friday) morning. Her knees were like shaking and my grandfather was the ringmaster back when her father Tommy Hanneford had the show.”

In addition to her grandfather, Walker’s mother is touring with another circus working with six ponies, her brother is currently touring with Cirque du Soleil and her husband and son travel with her.

Les Kimes, “Cousin Grumpy” in the show, has worked for 40 years in the performance industry working with pigs. His show titled “Cousin Grumpy and the Pork Chop Revue” has traveled with circuses, fairs and festivals, as well as being featured at theme parks.

Kimes said he’s worked with the Hannefords off and on since 1993, but this year the act is traveling with the whole tour. He also said his father started the act 50 years ago, and he’s continued it.

Animal involvement in the circus began as far back as 200 years ago with horses that were imported from Englan, Tegge said.

The Royal Hanneford Circus, which is a ninth-generation circus family, started with horses, he said.

“This particular show and family history really goes back to the roots of the circus in general,” Tegge said. “As America grew, the importation of animals grew. Like, elephants, lions and tigers. That started happening during the late 1700s”

Tegge said that when circuses first started, they exposed the general population to exotic animals, and when animals would retire from the circus, they helped start zoos across the U.S.