Ringling Bros. Announces Elephants are 'Stepping Down'

The animals were an iconic part of the circus.

January 11, 2016, 10:57 PM

— -- They are an iconic part of any circus -– eliciting excited shrieks from wide-eyed children. But now, circus-goers will have to do without elephants, as Ringling Bros. announced the early retirement of their majestic animals Monday.

“They are going to retire like everyone does – to Florida,” said Stephen Payne, of Feld Entertainment, the company that owns the circus.

In March, the company said it was retiring its herd of elephants in 2018, but Payne says that date was just a “benchmark,” saying they worked backwards to meet their deadline.

The early retirement comes on the heels of legislation that makes it harder for the company to travel with the elephants. Many cities, such as Asheville, North Carolina, have recently passed laws meant to protect elephants or remove exotic animals, including elephants, from city-owned facilities.

“Animal rights groups are going to say what animal rights groups are going to say,” Payne said.

Despite the criticism the circus has received in the past, Payne says the elephants are treated humanely when they retire. The 11 elephants currently on tour will retire to the company’s 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation, located in central Florida.

There, the elephants will “enjoy time in the sun and mingle with their friends,” Payne said. They will also take part in medical research, such as why cancer is much less common in elephants than it is in humans.

“Our company and our family’s commitment to save the majestic Asian elephant will continue through our breeding program, research and conservation efforts at the Center,” said Alana Feld, executive vice president of Feld Entertainment.

The elephants will travel to 13 or 14 more cities before officially “stepping down” in May.

“Ringling has always been evolving and this is just the next stage in the revolution of Ringling,” Payne said. “The circus does have another exciting addition that we will be making soon – and no, I can’t tell you what it is.”

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events