The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is ending its elephant acts a year and a half early and will retire all of its touring elephants in May. The move comes amid increasing scrutiny on circus elephant acts, with local governments passing "anti-circus" and "anti-elephant" ordinances in response to concerns over animal cruelty. The circus's parent company, Feld Entertainment, told the AP that all the iconic elephants will be permanently retired to the company's 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida. There are 11 elephants on tour with the circus. "They'll be joining the rest of the herd," says Alana Feld, Ringling's executive VP and show producer and also part of the family that owns Feld Entertainment. Feld owns the largest herd of Asian elephants in North America. In addition to those still touring, there are 29 elephants on the property, and two additional animals are on breeding loans to zoos, Feld says.
Elephant acts have been showcased by Ringling for more than a century, but because so many cities and counties have passed ordinances, it became difficult to organize tours of three traveling circuses to 115 cities each year, Feld CEO Kenneth Feld has said. Fighting legislation in each jurisdiction is expensive, he noted. Last year, Feld Entertainment announced the elephants would be phased out and retired by 2018. Once the company began planning, it realized it could retire the elephants a lot sooner, Alana Feld says. It costs about $65,000 yearly to care for each elephant, she notes. She says the retired elephants at the CEC will also be part of cancer research. Ringling's new show will begin in July without the giant pachyderms. "We're looking at a lot of new ways of doing things," Feld notes. (These circus elephants helped rescue a stranded truck.)