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Popular US Circus to Phase Out Elephant Acts

Kenneth Feld (L) CEO of Feld Entertainment Inc., and daughters (R-L) Juliette, Alana, and Nicole, feed elephants Alana and Icky at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation, Polk City, Florida, March 3, 2015.

The most prominent touring circus in the U.S. said Thursday that by 2018 it will end its century-old display of Asian elephants, bowing to growing public concern about how the giant animals are treated.

The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus uses 13 elephants in its three shows that travel to 115 cities a year. For decades, the elephants have been featured in parades as the Ringling circus arrives in cities. They also play prominent roles in the shows.

Even now, Ringling's parent company, Feld Entertainment, has an elephant highlighted on its web site, where a sign on an elephant's head touts its circus as "The Greatest Show on Earth."

For years, the Ringling circus has rebuffed animal-rights critics, alleging that it mistreats the animals.

But Feld vice president Stephen Payne told VOA that "we started to feel the mood shift" among customers worried about the circus transporting the pachyderms from city to city.

The company also noted that some U.S. jurisdictions have passed what it calls "anti-circus" or "anti-elephant" laws that make it difficult to plan tours, creating what Payne called a "regulatory patchwork that's constantly changing."

Payne said, "We're not in the business of fighting city hall."

Ringling said that as use of the touring elephants is phased out, the animals will join 29 others the company owns at its elephant preserve in the southern state of Florida, a facility it uses for research on the elephants, the births of 26 elephants in recent years and the eventual retirement of older elephants.

Payne said Feld needs to expand the Florida facility before it can accommodate the elephants now appearing in its shows.