In a major shift on how it conducts its entertainment business, Feld Entertainment Inc., the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, announced Thursday that it will remove Asian elephants from its traveling circus performances. The plan is to have Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus phase elephants out of its shows entirely by 2018.
Part of that plan includes having 13 elephants currently traveling with the three circus units relocated to the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant for Conservation in Florida, where they'll join the rest of the Ringling Bros. herd of more than 40 elephants.
It's a big victory for animal-rights activists, who have for years been fighting the company with protests and petitions to remove the elephants from performing and traveling with the show.
Reached for comment by New Times over the announcement, PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk responded with a statement that expressed enthusiasm but called on Feld to speed up the process of retiring the elephants to Florida.
"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," part of the statement says. "However, many of the elephants are painfully arthritic, and many have tuberculosis, so their retirement day needs to come now."
Throughout the years, groups like PETA (or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) and others have called out Feld on the cruelties inflicted on the elephants owned by the company.
Through undercover work, they've released photos of baby elephants being abused during performance training.
In 2009, PETA released this video showing Ringling Bros. workers beating, whipping, and hooking elephants:
The protests and outcries over the elephants being subjugated to cruelty and forced to perform seemed to have gone so mainstream that the company debated it internally and eventually realized it was time to move forward.
"There's been somewhat of a mood shift among our consumers," Alana Feld, the company's executive vice president, told the Associated Press. "A lot of people aren't comfortable with us touring with our elephants."
Feld Entertainment has Asian elephant conservation programs throughout the world and has been collaborating with conservation organizations as well as the island nation of Sri Lanka to preserve and protect the animals. It has also been working with the Smithsonian Institution's research lab to find a cure for diseases that impact juvenile elephants.
Through this work, the company has started the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk City, Florida, which is home to the largest herd of Asian elephants and one the most successful Asian elephant breeding programs in the world.
The 200-acre center houses 29 elephants of the 43 elephants Feld Entertainment owns. For now, 13 of the elephants are on tour with the circus but will be retired to the center in Polk City by 2018.
"This is the most significant change we have made since we founded the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation in 1995," Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment said in a news release. "When we did so, we knew we would play a critical role in saving the endangered Asian elephant for future generations, given how few Asian elephants are left in the wild. Since then, we have had 26 elephant births. No other institution has done or is doing more to save this species from extinction, and that is something of which I and my family are extremely proud. This decision was not easy, but it is in the best interest of our company, our elephants, and our customers."
For the most part, cities in Broward and Palm Beach have passed ordinances banning live animal attractions. In February, the Town of Palm Beach passed an ordinance that prohibits the display of elephants, tigers, bears, and other animals. Hollywood, Lauderdale Lakes, and Weston have passed similar ordinances. Hallandale Beach has an ordinance that bans the use of prods and other instruments deemed cruel to animals.
Ringling Bros. will continue to feature other animal performers, including tigers, lions, horses, dogs, and camels.