Most retirees get honored in some way by a dinner, brunch, or other event, and the last remaining touring elephants of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus are no exception. The 11 elephants recently retired and, like most retirees, moved to Florida, where the performing elephants were honored with a brunch buffet of carrots, apples, celery, bread, and of course, lots of hay. The buffet was streamed live on Facebook today at the Ringling Brothers Elephant Conservation Center in Polk, Florida, between Orlando and Tampa. The retirees were joined by 12 other already retired elephants. With the addition of the recent retirees, there are a total of 40 Asian elephants at the conservation center.
According to ABC News, Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, had originally decided to retire the elephants in 2018, but were able to retire them earlier due to building structures being completed faster than expected. The circus company decided to retire the elephants due to numerous cities and counties passing ordinances prohibiting the use of bull hooks while handling elephants or prohibiting wild animal acts altogether. Executives of Feld Entertainment also say that trying to organize tours of three traveling circuses and fighting legislation in each jurisdiction was expensive.
Animal activists had alleged in the past that circuses mistreated elephants, leading to Feld Entertainment suing a number of animal-rights groups along with the Humane Society of the United States. In 2014, Feld won $25.2 million in settlements which ended a 14-year battle of allegations of Ringling circus employees mistreating elephants, ABC News reported. The circus will continue to use other animals in their acts, such as tigers, dogs, and goats, as well as camels used in a Mongolian troupe of stunt camel riders that are part of its Circus Xtreme show.
Animal activists also protest using these animals, but the elephants especially were a problem pointed out by groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. In the wild, elephants are social and live together in family-like environments, and traveling the country in rail cars was inhumane and caused elephants to experience depression, animal activists have said. Some animal activists also think that perhaps the documentary Blackfish, about Sea World’s orca Tilikum, may have had something to do with the decision to retire the elephants.
Ringling Brothers has retired other elephants to their 200-acre conservation center in Florida. While the Ringling Brothers sanctuary boasts the largest Asian elephant population in the Western Hemisphere, it is relatively small in size compared to other elephant sanctuaries in America, such as The Elephant Sanctuary (2,700 acres) in Tennessee and the Performing Animals Welfare Society (2,300 acres) in California. Animal activists still say that the elephants do not belong in the sanctuary, but a spokesman for Feld, Stephen Payne, asserts that the facility is the best place for the elephants.
“We are dedicated to their care and conservation, we have made a lifetime commitment to these animals.”
The 11 elephants will be slowly integrated with the 29 other elephants already living in the sanctuary. While the sanctuary will provide a life of retirement for the elephants, it will also provide conservation of the animals by breeding, as well as research. Studies have shown that elephants are more resistant to cancer than humans, and researchers are wanting to study the elephants to figure out why. Dr. Wendy Kiso says that the research will be limited to blood drawn from the elephants.
The last performance of the Ringling Brothers circus elephants was live-streamed (shown below) on Facebook on Sunday, May 1, 2016, in Providence, RI.
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[Photo By AP Photo/Bill Sikes]