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Ringling Brothers’ elephants are headed for early retirement

The animals will live out their lives in a Florida conservation

Mario Tama/Getty Images

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is getting rid of the elephant acts in its circus routines around two years earlier than the circus had originally planned, the Associated Press reported. The 11 elephants currently touring will be retired to the company's 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation, located in central Florida. There, the elephants will join 29 other elephants owned by the circus's parent company, Feld Entertainment.

Feld Entertainment says the move is mostly due to new legislation that is making it harder for the company to travel with the animals. Each year, the circus visits 115 cities across the United States. But many local governments have recently passed laws meant to protect elephants or remove exotic animals — including elephants — from city-owned facilities. For instance, the city of Asheville, North Carolina has prohibited exotic animals from performing in its huge multi-purpose arena. The new legislation has become too expensive to fight, says Feld Entertainment CEO Kenneth Feld.

New legislation is making it harder for the company to travel with the animals

Because of this, Feld Entertainment announced in March of 2015 that it would be phasing out its elephant act by 2018. But the company is retiring the elephants earlier than expected; it didn't take as long to build the necessary enclosures for the incoming elephants at the CEC, according to the company. It costs Feld Entertainment $65,000 to care for each elephant a year.

While at the conservation, the elephants will be used as part of cancer research. Elephants don't get cancer as frequently as humans do, even though their bodies contain many more cells that could potentially become malignant. Scientists believe that elephant DNA may hold a cancer-suppressing gene that causes damaged cells to either repair themselves or self-destruct. By studying elephant genomes further, scientists hope to develop drugs for people that replicate this effect.