Ringling Bros. Circus Will Retire Its Elephants

Photo: EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images.
Ringling Bros. Circus is calling it the end of an era. After two centuries, its elephants are officially saying goodbye to the circus life forever.

According to the Associated Press, 11 Asian elephants will perform for the last time on May 1 at shows in Providence, RI, and Wilkes Barre, PA, tonight before moving to their permanent home at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center For Elephant Conservation.

This final performance for the elephants marks an end to a 200-year-old practice at the circus that had them dressing up and performing tricks, something many now consider inhumane. Some cities have even banned the use of use of bullhooks, which are used to train elephants.

Ronald B. Tobias, author of the 2013 book Behemoth: The History of the Elephant in America, told the AP that the change at Ringling shows the world no longer looks at elephants as performers, "but sentient animals that are capable of a full range of human emotions."

According to The Humane Society, there are still more than a dozen circuses in the United States that continue to use elephants, but none of those circuses are nearly as big as Ringling Bros., which will continue to use animals including horses, lions, tigers, dogs, and kangaroos in its shows.

After years of criticism over the treatment of elephants — in 2011, it was fined by the USDA for violations of the Animal Welfare Act — Ringling Bros. said last year that elephants would be phased out of circus shows by 2018.

"This decision was not easy, but it is in the best interest of our company, our elephants and our customers," said Kenneth Feld, the chairman and CEO of Ringling Bros.

The decision to retire the elephants early will make room for the circus' new show, Out Of This World, which will be a space-age interactive show that Ringling Bros. says will create "a new genre of circus that will shatter expectations, spark excitement, and push the limits of what’s possible.”

As for the future of the elephants, they will be heading to the largest conservatory of Asian elephants in North America. There, they will reportedly continue a breeding program and will be used in a pediatric cancer research project.

For those who would like to see the elephants one more time, Ringling Bros. is livestreaming the Providence show on its Facebook and website.
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