Feld Entertainment announces early retirement for all Ringling Bros. circus elephants

Feld Entertainment, the parent company of the Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus, has announced that it plans to retire all of the elephants performing in its circuses by May 2016. 

Last year, Feld announced that it would retire the iconic Asian elephants to the Center for Elephant Conservation, a preserve located in Polk City, Florida, by 2018. But today Feld announced that the remaining elephants traveling in its shows will join the other retired elephants living at the sanctuary this May. The company didn't give a reason for its decision to retire the elephants sooner than planned, but in a blog posted today, the Humane Society of the United States' president and CEO Wayne Pacelle suggests that the acceleration could be due to the public's changing perception of keeping animals captive for entertainment purposes. 

"Ringling had been one of the biggest defenders of this kind of archaic animal exploitation, and the imminent end of its traveling elephant acts signaled that even one of the most tough-minded and hardened animal-use companies now recognized that the world is changing and it had to adapt," Pacelle writes. "For wild animals whose natural habitat is outdoors, life in a traveling show is filled with unending misery. Their training involves heavy doses of punishment, they are kept in cages or chained in trailers and boxcars, and forced to endure months of grueling travel, all so they can perform silly tricks."

Elephants have have been part of traveling circuses since 1805 when Hachaliah Bailey introduced an elephant named Old Bet to the country as part of a traveling menagerie. Poor Old Bet didn't live a very long life, though. In 1816, she was shot to death in Maine by a local farmer who thought it was sinful for people to pay to look at animals. Over the past few years, Ringling Bros. has faced an increasing backlash against its decision to continue to use elephants in its circuses. 

UPDATE: Stephen Payne, vice president of corporate communications for Feld Entertainment, thinks this story is a one-sided piece written for HSUS. We were just writing because we thought it was pretty cool that the company's elephants are retiring early. It seems he doesn't see it that way, so here's what he asked us to tell you: 

- The decision today did have a reason, it was in our press statement and the original AP article – we determined the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation could accommodate all 11 elephants currently on the circus, hence the announcement of the expedited time line. It had nothing to do with ticket sales (which are quite healthy by the way).

- Mr. Pacelle and HSUS have no knowledge of our animal care, training or the Center. In addition, his organization and it’s allied groups paid Feld Entertainment over $25 million for bribing a witness in federal court (Wayne even signed one of the checks in question).


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