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The famous elephant acts, which have been part of Barnum & Bailey and Ringling Bros Circus shows for more than a century now, will end in this May, the circus’ parent company said on Monday, earlier than their previously announced retirement. Last March, Feld Entertainment said the 13 Asian elephants used in its traveling shows would be phased out by 2018.
The iconic elephants of both the circus shows will parade into a Rhode Island arena for their final performance on Sunday, starting with their classic feature of "The Greatest Show on Earth" which began in the "big top" circus tents 145 years ago.
The last act of the giant pachyderms would follow decades of protest by animal welfare activists claiming the methods used to train the elephants and home them are very unkind. "It’s going to be an end of a long era and an overdue policy," said Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States. The 11 remaining Asian elephants that range in age from six- old April to 48-year old Asia are traveling together in troupes to perform their final shows.
When the curtain closes down, these elephants will take one last trip to Ringling's 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida, where they will join 29 of their fellow elephants in the largest group of Asian elephants in the Western Hemisphere.
The former stage performers will roam there, hang out and play with a variety of toys, balls and even huge truck tires leftover from Feld Entertainment's Monster Jam events. As an additional feature, the center is building two new pools for the water-loving elephants, which already use 80 gallons of water a day for drinking and to have even more splash time.
The elephants are also getting involved in some more serious works like; the search for treatments to cure pediatric cancer. As these huge animals rarely develop cancer, researchers are using the elephant center to study whether there is a cancer-fighting gene in their DNA.
Animal rights groups largely praised Ringling's decision to retire its elephants, however some say the move doesn't go far as much as necessary and want the circus to eliminate other animals in its acts, including lions and tigers.
While the elephants are no longer going to take part in Ringling's performances, the company is planning to launch a new production which is unlike anything it's done before and taking audiences into space for the first time.