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Why is Ringling removing elephants from the circus?

March 5, 2015

POLK CITY, Florida (AP) — The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced Thursday it will phase out the show’s iconic elephants from its performances by 2018.

Elephants have long been the symbol of the circus, which has roots dating back to 1870, when P.T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan and Circus began touring.

Feld Entertainment is now the parent company of the Ringling circus.


Q: How many elephants does Feld Entertainment have?

A: The company owns 43 elephants, and 29 of the giant animals already live at its 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. The company’s Asian elephant herd is the largest in North America.

Q: Why is Feld removing the elephants from the circus?

A: Executives say it’s because of growing public concern about how the animals are treated. Kenneth Feld, the company’s president, says the animals are not mistreated or abused. But he said that certain cities and counties have passed “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. It’s also difficult to plan tours amid constantly changing regulations.

Q: Why do animal rights activists oppose elephants in circuses?

A: Activists say the elephant trainers and handlers use of sharp bullhooks to get the pachyderms to perform trick, along with the chaining of elephants’ legs is cruel punishment. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals also claims the performing elephants suffer from arthritis and that many circus elephant mothers are separated from their calves too soon. Feld officials deny all of these claims.

Q: What will happen to the circus elephants by 2018?

A: All will be relocated to the Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk City, Florida, where they will live out their days. Feld says it costs about $65,000 a year to maintain an elephant. Initially the center will be open only to researchers, scientists and others studying the Asian elephant. Eventually, Kenneth Feld “hopes it expands to something the public will be able to see.”

Q: What will Ringling replace the elephants with in the circus show?

A: Ringling will still use some animals in its shows, including camels, tigers, dogs and goats. Also, the circus is expected to draw on other Feld-owned talent. In 2008, Feld acquired a variety of motor sports properties, including monster truck shows, motocross and the International Hot Rod Association, which promotes drag races and other events. In 2010, it created a theatrical motorcycle stunt show called Nuclear Cowboyz.

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