Finally, Ringling Bros. retires its elephant show after 145-year run

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After years of criticism from animal rights groups, the Ringling Bros. Circus is retiring the elephant show that's been part of their repertoire for 145 years.


The eleven performing Asian elephants—six in Rhode Island and five in Wilkes Barr, Pennsylvania—in the circus had their final show on Sunday night and will now be sent to a conservation area in Florida. Asian elephants are an endangered species.

The circus' parent company Feld Entertainment has had several cases of alleged mistreatment of animals, The Washington Post reports, at least two involving the deaths of elephants in their care. The first, in 1998, revolved around the death of a 3-year-old elephant named Kenny who, just before his death, may have been forced to perform despite being sick. Another case involved an elephant who died after being hit with a bullhook when he didn't follow orders and leave a pond he was bathing in during free time between performances.

The company also agreed to pay a $270,000 settlement in 2011 in a case alleging that it had violated federal animal welfare regulations. But the history of the battle between animal rights groups and the circus isn't clear cut: in 2014 Feld Entertainment also won a $16 million payout from groups including the Humane Society to settle unproven claims that elephants were abused, closing a case that was open for 14 years.

This latest news follows closely on the back of Sea World's decision to begin phasing out its live orca shows after the documentary Blackfish raised concerns about the treatment of killer whales in captivity.


The Ringling Bros. Circus will continue to use other animals like tigers, lions, and horses in their acts, according to CBS News.