You Do What?

By Forest Balderson April 1, 2011

Life’s a Circus

Vicki Adema began her career as a fashion buyer in New York City and Chicago. Today, she’s the primary buyer for the animals of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. She buys everything from hay and sawdust for elephants to frozen mice and rats for the snakes to eat. “You wake up one morning and go to work and suddenly you need a snake heating pad immediately in Binghamton [New York],” Adema says.

Adema works for Feld Entertainment in Palmetto, which owns the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus as well as Disney On Ice and Feld Motor Sports.

Her job is to make sure cities are ready for the arrival of the circus animals—a job that usually requires coordinating circuses in three different cities every month. She tries to use local vendors in every city.

“The mom-and-pop landscapers are shocked when I call and ask for branches for the elephants to play with or logs for the tigers to use as scratching posts,” she says. Elephants, by the way, prefer timothy hay as well as a weekly diet per elephant of 24 loaves of unsliced wheat bread, 100 pounds of carrots, 45 apples, 45 pounds combined  of potatoes, corn and red grapes, and a half bundle of sugar cane. They also need a pedicure once every three weeks. And then there are all the vet supplies, cleaning products and vitamins to procure. The one people product she buys is 10,000 to 40,000 pounds of ice a day for snow cones. “It’s just fascinating setting up a city within a city,” she says.

Wages for someone in Adema’s specialty can range from $30,000-$60,000, and many universities and colleges offer degrees in procuring and sourcing. “For me, though, it was baptism by fire,” she says.

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