Circus-goers are divided about the recent news that Ringling Bros. will retire its elephants by 2018. ''The Greatest Show On Earth'' recently arrived in Washington, DC and Vanessa Johnston went along to gauge opinion.
They've been dazzling audiences for more than a century. But by 2018, elephants will no longer be part of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Baily Circus... ...following years of intense scrutiny by animal welfare groups. Stephen Payne is the spokesman for Feld Entertainment, the circus' parent company. (SOUNDBITE) (English) VICE PRESIDENT, CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS AT FELD ENTERTAINMENT, STEPHEN PAYNE, SAYING: "Basically we looked across the U.S. at a patchwork quilt of anti-circus legislation and came to the conclusion that our resources were better-used saving these magnificent animals for future generations than fighting legislation. We're in the live family entertainment business, not in fighting city hall all across the United States." Payne says the circus still has lots of other performers -- including lions, horses and dogs. But Delcianna Winders from animal welfare group PETA, believes the public are increasingly uneasy with animal acts. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DEPUTY GENERAL COUNSEL FOR PETA'S CAPTIVE ANIMAL DEPARTMENT, DELCIANNA WINDERS, SAYING: "They've seen video footage of elephants backstage being beaten at venue after venue with bullhooks -- which are fireplace poker-like prods. They've seen photos of baby elephants training and nobody wants to support that. The circus was able to keep it behind closed doors for many years, but as the public learns, they're turning their backs on the circus." But not all circus goers agree. (SOUNDBITE) (English) CIRCUS ATTENDEE, SANDRA, SAYING: "I really hope they don't get rid of them, because it's part of the circus. That's what we need, the elephants to stay." (SOUNDBITE) (English) CIRCUS ATTENDEE, STEVE HARTMAN, SAYING: "I think it's neat to see the elephants at the circus, so the circus will miss the elephants. But in all fairness to the elephants, they deserve to probably lead a better life -- not locked up and traveling and chained." The circus's 13 Asian elephants will gradually be retired to a conservation center in central Florida. But for just a few more years kids and adults can catch a glimpse up close -- before the elephants take their final curtain call.