Animal advocates have been waiting decades for Ringling Bros. to improve its treatment of elephants. Considering the circus has had more than 50 USDA animal welfare citations since 1993, the writing was on the wall.
Here's a timeline of the more significant elephant controversies - and a reminder of why Ringling Bros.' decision to end the use of circus elephants is such a momentous occasion for the animals in its care.
January 1998: Ringling Bros. forces a severely sick 3-year-old elephant named Kenny to perform in three shows in one day.
Kenny dies hours after the last show. The USDA charges Ringling Bros. with violating the Animal Welfare Act - and drops the charges after Ringling Bros.' parent company donates $20,000 to elephant-related causes.
February 1999: USDA investigators find two 18-month-old babies, Doc and Angelina, tied up.
Ringling Bros. says it's part of their weaning process. In nature, baby elephants are weaned at age two to four and stay with their mothers for life. Ringling Bros. weans them by one year. The process involves tying the babies in ropes and dragging them away from their mothers for training. Both Doc and Angelina have injured legs. The USDA warns Ringling Bros., but doesn't press charges.