The parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Feld Entertainment, told the Associated Press that they will be phasing out their elephant acts by 2018 due to "growing public concern about how the animals are treated."

According to a follow-up report by the Chicago Tribune, the decision was "difficult and debated at length," as elephants have been a centerpiece of the circus for over a century.

"There's been somewhat of a mood shift among our consumers," said Alana Feld, the company's executive vice president. "A lot of people aren't comfortable with us touring with our elephants."

Although I'm sure Feld would love to appear sympathetic to public discomfort, it appears that the change was at its root financially motivated. Feld's 43 pachyderms constitute the largest herd of Asian elephants in North America, and it costs about $65,000 per year to care for each—a number that is significantly augmented by the fight against an increasing amount of "anti-circus" legislation:

Another reason for the decision, company President Kenneth Feld said, was 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, he said.

"All of the resources used to fight these things can be put towards the elephants," Feld said during an interview at the Center for Elephant Conservation. "We're not reacting to our critics; we're creating the greatest resource for the preservation of the Asian elephant."

29 of Feld's 43 elephants already live at the company's 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida; the other 14 will arrive as they are retired from the circus. Feld told the Tribune that he hopes the center eventually "expands to something the public will be able to see." So, a zoo?

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Although Feld Entertainment won a 14-year legal battle last year over unproven allegations of mistreated elephants, there is plenty of evidence to show that the bungled lawsuit (the original plaintiff was found to have been paid at least $190,000 by animal-rights groups, completely discrediting their case and ultimately leading to Feld Entertainment receiving $25.2 million in settlements) was, in fact, merited.

There is reason to be skeptical—but for now, let's hope these beautiful, highly intelligent creatures really are moving on to a happier, more dignified life.

Image via Associated Press


Contact the author at ellie@jezebel.com.