Ringling Bros Ends Elephant Shows After Final Performance, Will Be Cancer Research Subjects Instead At Conservation Center

The Ringling Bros. circus will take on a new look as their iconic elephant performers are retired permanently from the show. The elephants are slated to perform their last show this evening in Providence, Rhode Island, before being transported to the Feld Family’s Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation (CEC) in Florida. The eleven elephants currently still performing with the circus will join 29 other Asian elephants already retired at the facility.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus have announced that elephants will no longer be a part of the iconic circus show. The move comes as many animal rights groups have blasted the companies, both owned by Feld Entertainment, for controversial training methods which use the bullhook. In 2011, the circus was fined $270,000 by the USDA for violations of the Animal Welfare Act, and many animal rights activists hoped it would spell an end to the elephants forced performances. However, with the elephants continuing to perform, activists continued to picket and protest at circus events.

Finally, after years of controversy, Feld Entertainment decided to phase out the elephants from their shows. As of 2016, only eleven elephant performers remained with the show, and were slated for retirement in 2018. However, it seems that Ringling Bros. decided to move up the date and announced that May 1, 2016, would be the pachyderms’ last performance.

CNN reports that the decision to remove the elephants from the show was not one that Ringling Bros. took lightly. However, Kenneth Feld, the chairman and CEO of Ringling Bros, says that the removal of the elephants is in the best interest of the circus, the elephants, and the customers.

“This decision was not easy, but it is in the best interest of our company, our elephants and our customers.”

However, Feld claims that “no other organization” is doing as much as Feld Entertainment to save the Asian elephant from extinction. He says his family is extremely proud of the work they have done in elephant conservation and says they will continue to do so via the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida.

“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.”

The conservation center sits on 200 acres of property in rural Florida situated between Sarasota and Orlando, and touts itself as a “home to the largest Asian elephant herd in the Western Hemisphere.” The organization will focus on breeding programs for the endangered species but will also be using the elephants as pediatric cancer research subjects.

According to the Ringling Bros. Center for Conservation, elephants almost never get cancer, and when they do, their morbidity rate is much lower than that of humans. Therefore, the conservation center works with Pediatric Oncologist Dr. Joshua Schiffman and the team from Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital to study the elephants and possibly gain insight into why their cancer rate is so low. It was noted that with their massive size comes a massive amount of cells, much more than a human. Therefore, one would suspect that they would have higher rates of cancer than humans, but they don’t. With such a low incidence of cancer, scientist want to better understand where elephants get their cancer resistance to potentially create new treatments for pediatric cancers.

While many animal rights activists are celebrating this first step to putting the Ringling Bros. elephants out of harm’s way, they note that the conservation center is no “fairy tale ending” for these majestic beasts. PETA says they are pleased that the elephants will no longer have to suffer through the stresses of constant travel. However, they note that many of the practices that the animal rights group decries on the road are used at the conservation center, as well. For example, bullhooks and electric prods are commonly used on elephants at the CEC.

“Elephants at the CEC still live in fear of being hit with bullhooks—heavy batons with a sharp steel hook on one end (picture a fireplace poker)—and shocked with electric prods, also called ‘hot shots.’ Despite mounting condemnation of these barbaric weapons, Ringling has staunchly defended their use.”

Additionally the report suggests that elephants at the property spend much of their time in chains.

“According to the sworn testimony of Gary Jacobson, general manager of the CEC, elephants at the facility are routinely chained on concrete floors for up to 24 hours a day. During a court-ordered inspection of the CEC, an independent elephant-care specialist observed that elephants spent so much time chained that they had worn grooves into the concrete.”

Therefore, animal rights groups claim that their efforts to save the Ringling Bros. elephants are far from over as the organization continues plans to breed the elephants indefinitely. What do you think about Ringling Bros. retiring their elephants from performance and sending them to the cancer research/conservation center instead?

[Image via Shutterstock]