With less than 35,000 Asian elephants left in the wild, and the habitat of those in the wild increasingly threatened, captive breeding programs like the one at the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation are vital to the future survival of this amazing species.
Dennis Schmitt, D.V.M., Ph.D.
Chair of Veterinary Services and Director of Research
Dr. Dennis Schmitt is the Chair of Veterinary Services and Director of Research with the animal stewardship department at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey®. He leads the veterinary services for the three traveling Ringling Bros. circus units and oversees research at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida. Considered the leading North American expert in elephant reproductive physiology and veterinary management, Dr. Schmitt is also the Alumni Professor of Reproductive Biology in the School of Agriculture at Missouri State University.
Dr. Schmitt lead the team which resulted in first elephant born from artificial insemination in 1999 and in his more than 30 years as an elephant veterinarian he has experienced over 50 elephant births some of which were born at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Center for Elephant Conservation. Dr. Schmitt administered the first successful treatment for the endotheliotropic herpes virus in an elephant, the single greatest health threat to the Asian elephant and established the first bovine non-surgical embryo transfer business in the state of Missouri.
In working with other facilities in both North America and in Asia, Dr. Schmitt has taught and trained the basics of elephant ultrasonagraphy (working definition) expanding its use in evaluating elephant health and reproduction world-wide. Although much of his work has been in elephant medical management and breeding programs, his research also investigates reproductive physiology of several endangered species.
Dr. Schmitt received his D.V.M. and Ph.D. in reproductive physiology from the University of Missouri Columbia. He is board certified in Theriogenology (veterinary reproduction) and served as a reproductive advisor for the AZA elephant TAG/ SSP management group since 1987. He is a member of the Asian Elephant Specialist Group of the IUCN.
Janice Aria, MS
Director of Animal Stewardship
Janice is a graduate of Ringling Bros. Clown College and a former member of Clown Alley on Ringling Bros. Blue Unit, where she was a featured performer in the elephant act. Along with her husband and brother she trained, presented and toured with a bear act and a dog act for over two decades. She is currently based out of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Center for Elephant Conservation. As the Director of Animal Stewardship, Aria is responsible for designing and implementing a standardized curriculum of best practices in animal husbandry and training. She works closely with trainers and their animals to maintain high standards of animal care and compliance with the Animal Welfare Act.
Aria holds a Bachelors degree and in Special Education and a Masters degree in Adult Education and HR Development from the University of South Florida.
Animal Stewardship Manager
Trudy joined Ringling Bros. in 1996 when she and her husband moved onto the grounds of Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation.
Trudy’s family has a long history in the care and presentation of various animal species, in zoos, circuses and educational settings. Currently Trudy is an instructor for the Ringling Bros. Elephant Care Training Program, sharing her extensive passion for and knowledge of the Asian elephant with students seeking entry level positions in the animal departments of one of Ringling Bros. traveling shows. As an active handler at the Center for Elephant Conservation, Trudy continues to participate in daily hands on care of the elephants, including participating in many of the elephant births which have taken place at the CEC.
Wendy Kiso, Ph.D.
Director of Conservation and Research
Dr. Wendy Kiso is the Director of Conservation and Research at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Center for Elephant Conservation. Her research focuses on the conservation of both the endangered Asian elephant and tiger. Dr. Kiso’s ground-breaking work in semen biology, semen storage and sperm cryopreservation in elephants is helping the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Center for Elephant Conservation lead the way in artificial insemination in elephants by establishing a Genomic Resource Bank for Asian elephants.
Dr. Kiso is also involved in various in situ elephant research projects with the Ringling Bros. Center for the Study of the Asian Elephant at Rajarata University and at the Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home in Sri Lanka.
Dr. Kiso obtained her B.S. in Biological Sciences from the University of California, Irvine. She is a graduate of the Exotic Animal Training and Management Program at Moorpark College, after which she received a Master of Natural and Applied Science degree from Missouri State University under the guidance of Dr. Dennis Schmitt. Dr. Kiso received her Ph.D. in Environmental Science and Public Policy at George Mason University in partnership with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Washington, D.C.
Director of Veterinary Care
A veterinarian for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey®, Dr. Ashley Settles tends to the diverse group of animals on the Ringling Bros.’ traveling units as well as at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Center for Elephant Conservation.
Dr. Settles previously led the start-up of Bluffton Equine Veterinary Services in Bluffton, S.C., where she performed herd health visits as an associate veterinarian. She has held positions in the hospital and ambulatory care settings, and brings extensive experience in diagnosing and treating lameness cases in horses.
Dr. Settles received her Bachelor of Science in Zoology from North Carolina State University, and her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Georgia, College of Veterinary Medicine.