Skip to main content

World Ringling Bros. to stop elephant acts by 2018 amid public concerns

Elephants from the Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus parade in front of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, in this file photo taken March 16, 2010. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will eliminate its elephant acts - long an integral part of the spectacle billed as "The Greatest Show on Earth" - by 2018 amid ongoing criticism by animal welfare activists.

JASON REED/REUTERS

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will phase out the show's iconic elephants from its performances by 2018, telling Associated Press exclusively that growing public concern about how the animals are treated led to the decision.

Executives from Feld Entertainment, Ringling's parent company, said the decision to end the circus's century-old tradition of showcasing elephants was difficult and debated at length. Elephants have often been featured on Ringling's posters over the decades. The decision is being announced Thursday.

"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."

Story continues below advertisement

Feld owns 43 elephants, and 29 of the giant animals live at the company's 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida. Thirteen animals will continue to tour with the circus before retiring to the centre by 2018. One elephant is on a breeding loan to the Fort Worth Zoo.

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."

The circus will continue to use other animals – this year it added a Mongolian troupe of camel stunt riders to its Circus Xtreme show. It will likely showcase more motorsports, daredevils and feats of humans' physical capabilities. (Ringling's popular Canadian competitor, Cirque du Soleil, features human acts and doesn't use wild animals.)

"There are endless possibilities," said Juliette Feld, another executive vice-president of the company and a producer of Feld's Marvel Universe Live, Disney on Ice and Monster Jam shows, among others.

Feld owns the largest herd of Asian elephants in North America. It costs about $65,000 yearly to care for each elephant, and Kenneth Feld said the company would have to build new structures to house the retiring elephants at the centre, located in between Orlando and Tampa on a rural, ranchlike property.

Kenneth Feld said initially the centre will be open only to researchers, scientists and others studying the Asian elephant.

Story continues below advertisement

Eventually, he "hopes it expands to something the public will be able to see."

"I want everybody's grandkids to be able to see Asian elephants," he said.

The centre's youngest elephant is Mike, who will be 2 in August, and the oldest is Mysore, who is 69. One elephant, six-year-old Barack, was conceived by artificial insemination. Since the centre opened in 1995, 26 elephants have been born there.

Ringling's elephants have been at the centre of lawsuits and ongoing complaints from animal rights activists.

In 2014, Feld Entertainment won $25.2-million in settlements from a number of animal-rights groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, ending a 14-year legal battle over unproven allegations that Ringling circus employees mistreated elephants.

The initial lawsuit was filed in 2000 by a former Ringling barn helper who was later found to have been paid at least $190,000 by the animal-rights groups that helped bring the lawsuit. The judge called him "essentially a paid plaintiff" who lacked credibility and standing to sue. The judge rejected the abuse claims following a 2009 trial.

Story continues below advertisement

Kenneth Feld testified during that trial about elephants' importance to the show.

"The symbol of the 'Greatest Show on Earth' is the elephant, and that's what we've been known for throughout the world for more than a hundred years."

When asked by a lawyer whether the show would be the same without the elephants, Feld replied, "No, it wouldn't."

This week, Feld said, "Things have changed."

"How does a business be successful? By adapting," he said.

Feld noted that when his father bought the circus in 1967, there was still a human sideshow featuring acts such as the bearded lady and other human oddities. His father did away with that, he said.

Story continues below advertisement

"We're always changing and we're always learning," he said.

In 2008, Feld acquired a variety of motor sports properties, including monster truck shows, motocross and the International Hot Rod Association, which promotes drag races and other events. In 2010, it created a theatrical motorcycle stunt show called Nuclear Cowboyz. Roughly 30 million people attend one of Feld's 5,000 live entertainment shows every year.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter