4 min read

Ringling Bros. To Retire Its Elephants Far Ahead Of Schedule

The shameful era of exploiting elephants for human entertainment by America's largest circus company is set to come to an end even earlier than expected.

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, through its parent company Feld Entertainment, announced on Monday that it will retire all its elephants in May 2016. Previously, the company had issued a statement indicating that the elephants would be retired by 2018.

According to Feld, the animals will be moved to the Center for Elephant Conservation (CEC), a facility in Florida owned by Ringling where they will be used in a breeding program, and studied to benefit cancer research.

Cancer is rare in elephants for reasons that are not yet clear, and the CEC is working with pediatric oncologist Dr. Joshua Schiffman to find out why. It's clear from the facility's website that human contact will be the norm for the elephants:

"The incredible bond the staff has with these majestic animals, and the hands-on care provided at the Center for Elephant Conservation, allows the experts at the CEC to easily provide the blood samples Dr. Schiffman needs to further his research."

While the early retirement might sound like wholly welcome news, Cathy Liss of the Animal Welfare Institute is dubious about what might be awaiting the elephants. She notes that the CEC is a place where elephants have been confined in chains on concrete floors and subjected to the use of bullhooks and electric prods.

"We anticipate that the elephants, instead of enjoying retirement in a true sanctuary, will experience other forms of commercial exploitation."

Ringling's treatment of elephants in retirement stands in contrast to other facilities, like the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, where animals are generally left to exist free of unnecessary human contact. The sanctuary's director of elephant care, Margaret Whittaker, told The Dodo in an earlier post that her facility would be willing to give Ringling's elephants the life of peace that they truly deserve.

"We stand ready to help ... ready to receive any elephants," she said. "Our doors are open."