A day after some critics laid into Prince William for visiting an animal sanctuary that reportedly uses elephants to entertain tourists, America's most famous circus group is expected to officially announce today it's dropping its own pachyderms. The parent company for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus tells the AP that it will phase out all of its 43 elephants by 2018 and send them to the Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida (29 of them are already there). "There's been somewhat of a mood shift among our consumers," Alana Feld, Feld Entertainment's executive VP, tells the Chicago Tribune. "A lot of people aren't comfortable with us touring with our elephants." Thirteen of the elephants will keep touring until 2018, while one elephant remains on a breeding loan at the Fort Worth Zoo, the Tribune adds.
Charges of animal cruelty have been leveled against Ringling Bros. before. In 2011, the USDA fined the circus $270,000 for violating the Animal Welfare Act, CNN reports. The settlement was in response to a lawsuit brought by the ASPCA and the Animal Protection Institute that claimed elephants were chained when not performing and moved around with metal bullhooks. Valerie Mann writes for DelmarvaNow.com that nearly two dozen countries have banned the use of wild animals in circuses and that baby elephants are especially mistreated. Kenneth Feld, Feld Entertainment's president, tells the Tribune that in addition to customers' discomfort with elephants in their shows, it's been difficult to get around some cities' "anti-circus" ordinances. "All of the resources used to fight these things can be put towards the elephants," Feld says, per the paper. "We're not reacting to our critics; we're creating the greatest resource for the preservation of the Asian elephant." (Read more elephants stories.)