Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced today that it will stop using elephants in their shows by 2018. The decision comes after years of pressure from animal rights groups, which have decried training methods that include the use of ropes and metal bullhooks.
The Associated Press reports that the circus’ parent company, Feld Entertainment, owns 43 Asian elephants. When the animals retire, they will live at a 200-acre facility in central Florida. Currently, 29 elephants live at the facility and 13 will continue performing for the next three years. One elephant is on loan to the Fort Worth Zoo for breeding.
In 2011, Feld Entertainment paid the USDA $270,000 in fines for violating the Animal Welfare Act.
Some animal rights activists say 2018 isn’t soon enough. “Many of the elephants are painfully arthritic, and many have tuberculosis, so their retirement day needs to come now,” PETA spokesperson Jessica Johnson told the BBC. “If the decision is serious, then the circus needs to do it now.”
Public discomfort with large animal acts seems to be growing. After the release of the 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” visits to SeaWorld theme parks dropped by one million visitors the following year. Also, a number of cities around the U.S. have banned exotic animal displays or performances.
Ringling Bros will continue to use other animals in their shows and displays, such as camels, horses and big cats.