Responding to long-standing public concerns about the treatment of circus elephants, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has announced that it is phasing out elephants from its performances.
The Associated Press reports that the giant circus company will phase out elephants by 2018.
“There’s been somewhat of a mood shift among our consumers. A lot of people aren’t comfortable with us touring with our elephants,” said Alana Feld, executive vice president of Ringling parent company Feld Entertainment.
Company executives said the decision, announced today, was a difficult one and was debated at length, the article notes. The company’s practice of showcasing elephants goes back a century.
Animal rights groups responded to the announcement almost immediately. In a statement, Ingrid E. Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said: “For 35 years PETA has protested Ringling Bros.’ cruelty to elephants. We know extreme abuse to these majestic animals occurs every single day, so if Ringling is really telling the truth about ending this horror, it will be a day to pop the champagne corks, and rejoice. … If the decision is serious, then the circus needs to do it NOW.”
The report adds: “Feld owns 43 elephants, and 29 of the giant animals live at the company’s 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida. Thirteen animals will continue to tour with the circus before retiring to the center by 2018. One elephant is on a breeding loan to the Fort Worth Zoo.”
Feld President Kenneth Feld noted that one factor in the decision was that a number of municipalities have enacted “anti-circus” and “anti-elephant” ordinances. “The company’s three shows visit 115 cities throughout the year, and Feld said it’s expensive to fight legislation in each jurisdiction,” the AP reports. “It’s also difficult to plan tours amid constantly changing regulations, he said.”
In an interview at the Center for Elephant Conservation, Feld said: “All of the resources used to fight these things can be put towards the elephants. We’re not reacting to our critics; we’re creating the greatest resource for the preservation of the Asian elephant.”