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Ringling Brothers circus plans to stop using elephants in its shows by 2018

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The animals will retire to the company's conservation grounds in Florida

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus will begin phasing out the use of elephants in its shows, The Associated Press reports. Thirteen Asian elephants will continue to tour with the company for a few more years before retiring to Ringling's Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida by 2018.

The company cited growing public concern for animal welfare and a "mood shift" from audiences as the reason behind its decision. Company president Kenneth Feld also claimed it was getting too expensive to fight anti-elephant legislation in cities around the US. Ringling's three shows visit 115 cities throughout the year, some of which, like Ketchum and Sun Valley, Idaho, have recently passed "anti-circus" ordinances.

Show's (almost) over

"All of the resources used to fight these [legal battles] can be put towards the elephants," Feld said. "We’re not reacting to our critics; we’re creating the greatest resource for the preservation of the Asian elephant."

The Asian elephant is currently listed as an endangered species. The World Wildlife Fund estimates there are only 25,600 to 32,750 living today. Ringling's parent company, Feld Entertainment, owns 43 elephants, the largest herd of Asian elephants in North America. The non-touring majority of Ringling's herd currently live at the company's Florida conservation center.

PETA has already responded to the decision, saying, "If Ringling is serious about this decision, then it needs to end its use of elephants now." In 2014, Ringling won $25.2 million at the end of a 14-year legal battle against various animal rights organizations, AP reports. The judge ruled the well-documented allegations that Ringling had mistreated its animals were unsubstantiated.

This decision doesn't mean the end of animals in the circus. The AP reports that just this year Ringling added a troupe of "camel stunt riders" to its Circus Xtreme show.