Elephants are preparing to take their final bow at the Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Bailey Circus, ending a 145-year spectacle that delighted fans and enraged animal activists. Vanessa Johnston reports.
For 145 years, elephants have been performing tricks like these at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. But now only 11 remain, and on Sunday they'll take their final bow amid pressure from animal rights groups.... ...and head to this elephant conservation center, owned and operated by the circus, in Polk City, Florida. They're retiring a little earlier than planned... But Alana Feld, executive vice president of Feld Entertainment, the circus' parent company, says the time is right to say goodbye. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ALANA FELD, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT OF FELD ENTERTAINMENT AND PRODUCER OF RINGLING BROS. AND BARNUM & BAILEY, SAYING: "There's been such a change in the legislative landscape around the country, and there's also been a mood shift among our consumers as well." But some say the conservation center won't be much better for the elephants. Anthrozoologist John Di Leonardo is a campaigner for PETA, an animal advocacy group. (SOUNDBITE) (English) JOHN DI LEONARDO, PETA CAMPAIGNER AND ANTHROZOOLOGIST, SAYING: "They'll continue to be threatened with bullhooks, possibly Tased with electric prods. The male elephants will be kept in solitary confinement behind bars and the other elephants will be chained up to 16 hours a day." But the circus says, those allegations are simply wrong. It maintains the elephants will be well-treated and have plenty of space, although one thing is clear. While the elephants may be hanging up their costumes on May 1... ...the debate over their care is far from over.