The latest on the story: The timeline for retiring all elephants in the Ringling Bros. circus has been moved up, according to the Associated Press. Feld Entertainment has announced that all elephants — including those currently on tour — will join the rest of the herd at the 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida in May.
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The elephant, a symbol of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for over a century, will no longer be featured in the organization's acts.
Executives from Feld Entertainment, Ringling's parent company, said in a release that the 13 elephants currently traveling with its circus units will be retired in 2018. They will join the 40 elephants currently living at the 200-acre Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida.
"The Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation is already home to the largest herd of Asian elephants and the most successful breeding program for this endangered species in the Western Hemisphere," the organization said in a statement. "The circus will continue to feature other extraordinary animal performers, including tigers, lions, horses, dogs and camels."
In an interview with CBS News, Executive Vice President Alana Feld referenced a shift in consumer attitudes toward the use of elephants in Ringling's live acts.
"There's been somewhat of a mood shift among our consumers," she said. "A lot of people aren't comfortable with us touring with our elephants."
President Kenneth Feld added that animal welfare ordinances targeted at elephants, such as the one passed by Los Angeles in April 2014, have been difficult to fight or even keep track of. He says the time has come to take those financial resources and put them to better use in helping the elephants.
"We're not reacting to our critics; we're creating the greatest resource for the preservation of the Asian elephant," he told the network.
In a video statement reacting to the news, PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said the decision, while wonderful, isn't something that should take three years to happen.
"We would rather that the day comes today, because three years is a long time to feel that whip and that bullhook," she said. "The end of the animal circus is a time of great rejoicing for the animal kingdom and for all the animal rights activists at PETA and elsewhere who have waited for this time."
Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States, echoed the calls for celebration, saying that despite being a bitter opponent of Ringling Bros. for many years, he nonetheless applauds the step in the right direction.
"Kudos to their leaders for recognizing that as the world changes, they can embrace that new world, instead of fighting it forever," he wrote in a blog post. "Good for them for embracing it, even if it’s later than we’d wished, and we urge them to retire their use of all wild animals in their traveling act. But today, they have taken a big, hearty, important step toward joining the humane economy, and we celebrate it."
This story was originally published in March 2015 and has been updated to reflect more recent information.