In an announcement that marks a huge win for animal welfare activists, Ringing Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will phase out the show’s infamous elephants from performances by 2018. According to the statement given to Associated Press, the circus decided to change their practices almost solely based on the enormous public concern about mistreatment of animals, which activists have spent years insisting is a top priority.

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Ringling’s parent company, Feld Entertainment, is a family business in the business of entertaining families. After decades of criticism from activist groups, company executive vice president Alana Feld finally admits the importance of listening to public opinion. “There’s been somewhat of a mood shift among our consumers,” she said. “A lot of people aren’t comfortable with us touring with our elephants.”

What will happen to the elephants who currently spend their lives traveling with the circus? Of the 43 elephants the circus owns, 29 already live at the company’s 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida. Just thirteen of the gentle giants will continue to tour with the circus before retiring to the same center by 2018. One elephant is on a breeding loan to the Fort Worth Zoo.

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Although public opinion was the official leading motivator behind the decision, company president Kenneth Feld said that city and county ordinances also played a part. Many localities have passed “anti-circus” and “anti-elephant” ordinances, which has made it expensive and challenging for the company’s three shows to travel freely. Feld explained that the ordinances make tour planning difficult, considering the constantly changing regulations. He’s probably right; it’ll be much less annoying when they are no longer traveling with enslaved elephants in tow.

Despite this win for elephants, it’s not likely that this change will lead to a kinder, gentler Ringling Bros. circus show. The shows will continue using other animals, and they’ve just added a Mongolian troupe of camel stunt riders to one show. That said, the circus plans to feature more motorsports, daredevils, and amazing human tricks, more akin to their Canada-based competitor Cirque du Soleil, which managed to capture attention and inspire amazement in guests of all ages without using wild animals for entertainment.


Images via Nazim Uddin and jillberg via Flickr Creative Commons.