Ringling Bros. remove elephants from circus shows

In what Feld Entertainment called an "unprecedented change," there will no longer be elephants in Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performances.

In an announcement made Thursday, 13 Asian elephants will be moved from their traveling circus performances and relocated to the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida by 2018. They will join the rest of the Ringling Bros. herd of more than 40 elephants.

Feld Entertainment said in a release that the decision will allow the company to focus on its Asian Elephant conservation programs in North America and through its partnership with Sri Lanka. The Greatest Show On Earth has been going on for 145 years and will still feature other animals including horses, dogs and tigers.

"This is the most significant change we have made since we founded the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation in 1995. 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," said Kenneth Feld, Chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment. "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."

"Our family has been the proud steward of the American institution that is Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, and our elephants, for 45 years. It is a legacy that we hold near and dear to our hearts, and as producers of The Greatest Show On Earth, we feel we have a responsibility to preserve the esteemed traditions that everyone expects from a Ringling Bros. performance while striving to keep the show fresh and contemporary for today's families," said Nicole Feld and Alana Feld, Ringling Bros. producers and Executive Vice Presidents with Feld Entertainment. "As the circus evolves, we can maintain our focus on elephant conservation while allowing our business to continue to meet shifting consumer preferences," they added.

What about elephants in Minnesota?

Jim Berg is with the Osman Shrine in St. Paul says their circus has been 92 years running. He says he understands why the Ringling Bros. are phasing out their remaining 14 touring elephants because so many cities, like Minneapolis, have circus animal regulations.

"It would never be our preference [to discontinue elephants]," Berg said. "We would never want to discontinue. It would only be out of being forced to discontinue because of availability."

The Osman Shrine hires a circus company, so the logistics are different, and he says the desire to see the animals is huge. Duluth for decades had Bessie the elephant who once famously escaped but she died in the 1970s. The Como Zoo had four between 1965 and 1976. Otherwise, the only other option is the Renaissance Festival which has had elephant rides for 40 years all from the same Texas family business. They told Fox 9 their elephant handler treats them so well they have no concerns. Berg says the same about the handlers they work with.

"To them it's like having a family dog, just on a little bit bigger scale and eats a lot more. They can't abuse them," Berg said.

Meanwhile, PETA sees the Ringling Bros.' move as a purely business decision. Listen to PETA's statement: http://www.peta.org/videos/ringling-bros-plan-to-retire-elephants-peta-statement/
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