Ringling Bros. Circus to Phase Out Elephant Act

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Ringling Bros. circus announced on Thursday, March 5 that it will gradually phase out its iconic elephant act from its shows. Eventually, the long-term plan is that all the elephants will be retired by 2018. It is a major turn of events for the big top grand champion whose symbol has long been synonymous with the majestic animal. Elephants have played a pivotal role in Ringling Bros.’ shows and advertising for decades. The move is in direct response to repeated criticisms regarding the treatment of the animals.

As Ringling Bros.’ treatment of the elephants has continued to come under scrutiny, the circus has been repeatedly criticized, sued, and picketed by several animal rights groups. Some of the most well-known advocate groups included the Humane Society of the United States and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals among others. In fact, the Ringling Bros. circus was fined nearly $300,000 in 2011 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) for violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

Advocate groups, such as The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), applauded Ringling Bros.’ announcement, but claimed the elephants should be retired ASAP. Animal rights activists have long claimed the elephants are mistreated. Ringling Bros. circus has long denied abuse allegations, but admitted their decision to phase out its elephant act was in direct response to growing public concern over the treatment of the animals.

The big top behemoth owns 43 elephants at this time. Twenty-nine of the 43 elephants are housed at its 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation, which is located in Florida. The facility was created in 1995 by Ringling Bros. as a sanctuary for the care and study of Asian elephants, which are an endangered species and the variety of animal the circus uses in its shows. As for the remaining 14 elephants, Ringling Bros. said one elephant is on a breeding loan to the Fort Worth Zoo in Texas, and it currently has 13 elephants traveling for its shows. These animals will continue to tour until the phase out is completed in 2018, at which point they will also be retired to the Ringling Bros. sanctuary center in Florida.

In addition to the public concern over the animals, another reason for the decision stems from the fact that many cities and counties have passed ordinances that restrict circus as well as animal occupation. The circus contends it is very complicated and costly to fight legislation in each jurisdiction. Moreover, it is also very difficult to plan tours amid constantly shifting protocols.

Ringling Bros. owns the largest herd of Asian elephants in North America. The costs associated with the care and maintenance of the elephants is significant–about $65,000 annually per elephant. Moreover, the company stated it would have to build new structures in order to house the retiring elephants at the center. This expansion of the facility will be done in preparation for the phasing out of the elephant act in 2018. According to sources, the center will initially only be open to scientists, researchers, and others studying the Asian elephant. However, the ultimate goal is to open the facility to the public so that everyone can have an opportunity to commune with the elephants.

As Ringling Bros. circus announced it will gradually phase out its iconic elephant act from its shows, the major turn of events from the big top grand champion comes in direct response to repeated criticisms regarding the treatment of its animals. Elephants have played a pivotal role in Ringling Bros.’ shows and advertising for decades. Yet, the show will go on as Ringling Bros. plans to use other animals, such as camel stunt riders, as well as more motor sports, daredevil exhibitions, and feats of human endurance.

By Leigh Haugh

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