The “Greatest Show on Earth” soon will go on without its elephants.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus revealed plans Thursday to remove its 13 Asian elephants from its three traveling shows. They will retire to the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation by 2018, the circus’ parent company, Feld Entertainment, said. There they will join the rest of the Ringling Bros. herd of more than 40 elephants.
The announcement came the same day a fight over the relocation of two Seattle zoo elephants appeared settled. The Seattle City Council said it would not block the planned shipment of the animals to the Oklahoma City Zoo despite hearing from protesters. Opponents included former TV emcee Bob Barker, who said no price is right for moving the pair of pachyderms anywhere other than a California sanctuary.
In Florida, Ringling Bros. said the “unprecedented change” in the 145-year history of its circus went along with changing taste of ticket buyers.
“We feel we have a responsibility to preserve the esteemed traditions that everyone expects from a Ringling Bros. performance while striving to keep the show fresh and contemporary for today’s families,” said Nicole Feld and Alana Feld, Ringling Bros. producers. “As the circus evolves, we can maintain our focus on elephant conservation while allowing our business to continue to meet shifting consumer preferences.”
They said Ringling Bros. will continue to focus on its Asian elephant conservation programs in North America and Sri Lanka to preserve elephants for future generations. The company said it has placed elephants at eight zoos, either on loan or through donations, and will continue to support a Smithsonian Institution research lab seeking cures for diseases afflicting juvenile elephants.
Animal rights groups cheered Ringlings Bros. announcement, but in May 2014, the Humane Society of the United States and co-defendants paid Feld Entertainment $15.75 million to settle a 14-year lawsuit they brought over the care of its Asian elephants.
“If Ringling is really telling the truth about ending this horror, it will be a day to pop the champagne corks and rejoice,” said Ingrid E. Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report.
In Seattle, the fight is over two female Asian elephants, 47-year-old Bamboo and 35-year-old Chai, who live at the city’s Woodland Park Zoo with a third female African elephant, 45-year-old Watoto.
Zoo officials said transporting the two 2,000 miles to Oklahoma would give the pair “a chance to join a larger social herd and ensure their long-term health and well-being.”
Barker and others urged moving the elephants to the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) sanctuary in California.
“This sanctuary that they’re talking about is the nearest thing to an elephant’s natural habitat,” Barker told TV station KFOR in Oklahoma City. “It’s acres and acres of land.” He said Oklahoma winters would be tough on the elephants.
Seattle zoo officials said there is a tuberculosis case among the elephant herd at PAWS, where they have a 10-acre spread. The Oklahoma City Zoo affords the elephants more space than they have in Seattle, plus more elephant companions.