The elephant acts that have been part of Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus shows for more than a century will end in May, earlier than their previously announced retirement, the circus’s parent company says.
Last March, Feld Entertainment said the 13 Asian elephants used in its travelling shows would be phased out by 2018.
The company accelerated the retirement plan after concluding its Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida had enough barn space, water and waste disposal capacity to hold the 11 elephants still on tour, spokesman Stephen Payne said.
The circus has been targeted by animal welfare groups who accused it of mistreating the elephants, a key symbol of the spectacle billed as The Greatest Show on Earth.
Many local governments also have added regulations making it harder for the circus to tour with the animals.
Calls by activists for the animals to be phased out more quickly did “absolutely” not factor into the company’s decision, Payne said.
The company said it is committed to saving the endangered species through breeding and medical research.
Fewer than 40,000 Asian elephants remain in the wild.
About 250 are in captivity in the United States, 26 of which were born in the past 20 years at Ringling facilities.
The Ringling herd at the conservation centre in Florida will total 42 once the travelling elephant shows cease.
Animal welfare groups are pressing Ringling Bros to end all animal acts, but the company still plans to showcase tigers, lions, horses, dogs and camels.
Payne said circus producers were adding new elements to shows that would debut this year without the circus’s largest performers.
‘We will all miss the elephants,’ he said. ’We don’t have many 9000-pound clowns.’