US & Canada

Ringling Bros circus says it will stop using elephants

Media captionMany animal rights activists have been protesting against the use of elephants in the circus

One of America's largest circus companies has said it will phase out the use of elephants in its shows.

The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus told that it plans to stop using the animals by 2018.

It said growing public concern about how the animals are treated led to the decision.

The company's 43 elephants will live at an animal conservation centre in Florida.

The circus will continue to use other animals - such as lions, tigers, horses, camels, and dogs - in its performances.

In recent years, some cities and counties have passed laws banning the use of elephants for entertainment, which has complicated the show's tours, company president Kenneth Feld.

Animal right activists have protested the use of the elephants in live shows for years saying they face physical abuse at the hands of trainers and unhealthy living conditions.

"Many of the elephants are painfully arthritic, and many have tuberculosis, so their retirement day needs to come now," said Jessica Johnson, a spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "If the decision is serious, then the circus needs to do it now."

Image caption Feld Entertainment has the largest herd of Asian Elephants in North America
Image caption Ringling's elephants have been the target of complaints from animals rights groups
Image caption Nearly dozen elephants will continue to perform until 2018

Executives from Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus company said the decision was not easy and was the result of much debate.

"There's been somewhat of a mood shift among our consumers," the company's executive vice president Alana Feld told the Associated Press.

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

Feld Entertainment owns 43 elephants, of which 29 currently live at the company's 200-acre conservation centre in central Florida. Until 2018, 13 of the animals will continue to perform in shows. One elephant has been loaned to the Fort Worth Zoo for breeding.

The company plans to formally announce the decision on Thursday.

Elephant acts have long been a part of the company's show, and have often been featured in its advertising materials.

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