The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, one of America’s largest circus companies, has said it will phase out the use of elephants in its shows.
The circus told the Associated Press that it plans to stop using the animals by 2018.
It said growing public concern about how the animals are treated led to the decision.
The company’s 43 elephants will live at an animal conservation centre in Florida.
In recent years, some cities and counties have passed laws banning the use of elephants for entertainment, which has complicated the show’s tours, company president Kenneth Feld.
“Many of the elephants are painfully arthritic, and many have tuberculosis, so their retirement day needs to come now,” said Jessica Johnson, a spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
“If the decision is serious, then the circus needs to do it now.”
Executives from Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus company said the decision was not easy and was the result of much debate.
“There’s been somewhat of a mood shift among our consumers,” the company’s executive vice president Alana Feld told the Associated Press.
“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.”
Feld Entertainment owns 43 elephants, of which 29 currently live at the company’s 200-acre conservation centre in central Florida. Until 2018, 13 of the animals will continue to perform in shows. One elephant has been loaned to the Fort Worth Zoo for breeding.
The company plans to formally announce the decision on March 5.
Elephant acts have long been a part of the company’s show, and have often been featured in its advertising materials.
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