Ringling Bros. Says Consumer Concern Drove Decision To Retire Elephants

Faced with increasing legislation, the company decided the show must go on without pachyderms.

Ringling Bros. announced today that elephants will be phased out of the circus’ show by 2018. This despite calling the animals “a lifelong symbol” of the show. Elephants have been featured in the circus for more than 140 years.

According to the AP video below on the announcement, it’s not just the protests and calls from circus-goers to stop using elephants in the performances. That has been going on for some time with many questioning how well elephants are cared for as they travel from city to city with the show. Ringling Bros. was even fined $270,000 in 2011 for violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Some places have passed laws to keep the circus out because of those concerns. A spokesperson in the video says that rather than fight legislation, they’re choosing to focus on providing entertainment.

One can’t help but to draw a parallel to SeaWorld, which has also had its fair share of bad PR over animal welfare. But in the case of Ringling Bros., we’re not sure just how much impact outrage over elephant cruelty has had. Slate notes that the company had been doing well financially right up until 2012, though it did report a six percent decrease in revenue for 2013.

Instead it could be a desire to shift its show to suit modern tastes.

“But the private company is an entertainment conglomerate that also stages shows like Disney on Ice, Monster Jam truck rallies, and Marvel Universe Live! Whether bad press was leading to empty seats at the circus is a bit unclear,” Slate says. “Though, it’s worth noting that its wildly successful competitor, Cirque du Soleil, is animal-free. It seems reasonable to guess that audience tastes have been changing.”

Whatever the reason, elephants currently performing in the show will be retired over the next three years (not fast enough for PETA, of course) when they will head to a conservation facility in Florida. Thumbs up on this.