AMERICAN big top businesses Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus will eliminate their elephant acts – long an integral part of the spectacle billed as “The Greatest Show on Earth” – by 2018 amid criticism by animal welfare activists, the circus’ parent company said.
Feld Entertainment said the 13 Asian elephants used in its traveling shows will live at the company’s 81ha Centre for Elephant Conservation in central Florida after they are retire over the next three years.
The animals represent a key symbol of the circus and have been part of its shows for more than a century.
The company said the move was in response to changes in consumer preferences and the legislative landscape, and would allow it to focus on its conservation efforts for the endangered species.
“This decision was not easy, but it is in the best interest of our company, our elephants and our customers,” Kenneth Feld, chairman and chief executive of Feld Entertainment, said.
The company will still showcase tigers, lions, horses, dogs and camels in its acts.
The circus has been targeted by animal welfare groups who accused it of mistreating the elephants. Activists often appear outside venues with fliers protesting the use of elephants and pictures of animals they say are abused.
After Feld Entertainment sued, claiming malicious prosecution, more than a dozen animal welfare groups agreed in 2012 and last year to pay settlements totalling about R25-million to end 14 years of litigation.
President of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) and longtime critic of Ringling Bros’ treatment of elephants Ingrid Newkirk said last week the circus should not wait to phase out elephants from its performances.
“If the decision is serious, then the circus needs to do it NOW,” Newkirk said.
To push for quicker action, Peta and Long Island Orchestrating for Nature will stage a demonstration at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, where Ringling appears this weekend.
Feld Entertainment, based in Ellenton, Florida, has 41 Asian elephants, the largest herd in North America, and relocating the show elephants will take time due to construction and staffing considerations, company spokesman Stephen Payne said.
The company would rather spend resources on its elephant breeding programme than continue battling restrictions by cities, Payne said.