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The Ringling Bros. Circus Will Retire Its Elephant Act in May

ringling bros elephants ringling bros elephants (Photo: DON EMMERT/Getty Images)
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The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is ending its touring elephants acts a year and a half earlier than expected. The larger-than-life creatures are expected to be removed from the circus and retired by May of this year, according to a company press release.

Last year Feld Entertainment, the circus' parent company, announced the elephants would be phased out from the shows and retired by 2018. The parent company currently owns the largest herd of Asian elephants in North America.

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The elephants will retreat to the 200-acre Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation (CEC) in Florida. Currently, there are 11 elephants on tour with the circus and they will join 29 others already living in the property, according to company.

Aside from spending their days playing in the sand and walking the fields, the elephants will help the on-site oncology team figure out why, despite having many more cells, elephants develop cancer less often than humans. According to the CEC site, elephants have a mortality rate of less than 5 percent compared to up to 25 percent in humans. Recent studies have found that the secret may be in the elephants' P53 gene. The CEC cancer research team is currently being led by Dr. Joshua Schiffman, a pediatric cancer specialist at the University of Utah.

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"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, Ringling Bros. producer and executive vice president with Feld Entertainment in the press release. "This transition will also allow us to fully focus on the role our elephants have in the pioneering pediatric cancer research project with Dr. Schiffman.”

The retirement of the elephant herd is a win for animal welfare advocates. Many cities around the country have anti-circus or anti-elephant ordinances in place. Last April, Los Angeles and Oakland banned the use of bull-hooks and pitchforks often used by elephant trainers and handlers and Asheville, North Carolina prohibited exotic animals from performing in its 7,600-seat U.S. Cellular Center.

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