Ringling Bros. circus is phasing out its elephants a year and a half ahead of schedule

Retiring in 2016.
Retiring in 2016.
Image: Reuters/Brendan McDermid
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

2016 may finally end a century-old practice that has both thrilled and saddened US circus-goers, as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus cancels its elephant acts.

“The Greatest Show on Earth” is a year and half ahead of schedule in eliminating Asian elephants from its performances. All of the majestic animals are planned to retire by May this year, parent company Feld Entertainment announced today (Jan. 11).

The company will unveil plans for an elephant-free show in April.

The iconic American circus, famous for its elephants and high-flying acts, first vowed to remove the animals from its traveling circus last March amid public concern about animal mistreatment.

The 13 elephants traveling with Ringling Bros. at the time were to be retired and sent to Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida by 2018. The circus has since sped up its efforts and now plans to move the elephants there this year.

Once the transition is complete, the center will hold a total of 42 elephants that participate in breeding, research, and conservation efforts. While the center has been noted for applying learnings from elephants’ low cancer rates to help cure the disease in humans, among other efforts, it has also drawn criticism for the animals’  living conditions and other controversial practices, Newsweek reported.

Ringling Bros.’s decision to phase out elephants has been celebrated by animal-welfare advocates who fought for years to expose the circus’s unethical practices. But as Quartz’s Jake Flanagin notes, elephants aren’t the only victims of circus abuse. Other animals including dogs, lions, tigers, horses, goats and llamas will remain in ring, for now.

Circuses aren’t the only shows caving under the weight animal-rights pressures. SeaWorld has also agreed to phase out its controversial orca whale show this year.