Ringling Bros. to Eliminate Elephants From Its Circus Acts After Public Scrutiny

Ringling Bros Elephants
Ringling Bros. announced Thursday, Feb. 5, that it plans to phase out elephants from its traveling circus acts by 2018 EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

Letting the elephants roam free. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will let its elephants go after years of protests about how the giant creatures are treated.

The circus' parent company Feld Entertainment announced Thursday, Feb. 5, that it plans to phase out all elephants from its multiple traveling circus performances by 2018.

"Under the plan, 13 elephants currently traveling with the three Ringling Bros. circus units will be relocated to the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant for Conservation in Florida by 2018," the statement read. "There they will join the rest of the Ringling Bros. herd of more than 40 elephants."

"Our family has been the proud steward of the American institution that is Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, and our elephants, for 45 years," the circus' producers Nicole and Alana Feld said in Thursday's statement. "As the circus evolves, we can maintain our focus on elephant conservation while allowing our business to continue to meet shifting consumer preferences."

The announcement was made as the circus faces heavy public scrutiny regarding treatment of elephants in circuses. In 2013, HBO released its documentary, An Apology to Elephants, which discussed the maltreatment of the animals living in captivity in the confines of circuses and zoos.

At the time, Feld Entertainment slammed the documentary as "rather one-sided and anti-circus."

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus artists and elephants perform EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images

Feld CEO Kenneth Feld called the removal of elephants as "the most significant change we have made since we founded the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation in 1995." He added: "Since then, we have had 26 elephant births. No other institution has done or is doing more to save this species from extinction, and that is something of which I and my family are extremely proud.

While the elephants will be removed from its performances, the circus still plans to feature animals like tigers, camels, dogs, horses, and lions.

"This decision was not easy," Feld said. "But it is in the best interest of our company, our elephants and our customers."

While the news was a relief to many, PETA released a statement to Us Weekly on Thursday, saying the timeline of three years was too long. "For 35 years PETA has protested Ringling Bros.’ cruelty to elephants," president Ingrid Newkirk said in the statement. "PETA also caught Ringling’s abuse on video and released photos of its violent baby elephant training to the world. We know extreme abuse to these majestic animals occurs every single day, so if Ringling is really telling the truth about ending this horror, it will be a day to pop the champagne corks, and rejoice."

Newkirk added: "Three years is too long for a mother elephant separated from her calf, too long for a baby elephant beaten with the sharp fireplace-poker like weapons called bullhooks that Ringling handlers use routinely, too long for an animal who roams up to 30 miles a day in the wild to be kept in shackles. If the decision is serious, then the circus needs to do it NOW."

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