ARLINGTON, Va., Jan. 11 (UPI) -- The Asian elephants of the Ringling Bros Circus will be retired two years earlier than expected, the company announced Monday.
The 11 elephants still part of their traveling circus will be retired May 1 and moved to a permanent home at the company's animal preserve near Walt Disney World in Florida because the facility was ready for them, the company said in a statement.
In March 2015, after years of badgering from animal rights activists and local governments no longer willing to support the treatment of animals in the circus, Feld Entertainment, the circus' parent company, announced they would retire all of their touring elephants to their preserve, the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation in 2018.
Being able to move up the retirement to just after the spring performances in Wilkes Barre, Pa., and Providence, R.I. was a case of exceeding their own expectations.
"When we announced last year that we would retire the elephants by 2018, we basically drew a line in the sand then started to work backwards," said Stephen Payne, vice president of corporate communication for the company. "We were surprised after a lot of hard work by the center staff that we had the barn space, the pasture space and the water resources for moving the elephants sooner rather than later."
The retirement of the last 11 elephants brings a total of 42 elephants to their remote 200-acre conservation center. The elephants already there were also retired early, although some males were never really performers. Many of the animals at the center now help with the reproductive health of the Asian elephant, which has been endangered since 1986 due to destruction of habitat and poaching. The Asian elephant -- particularly the female -- have much longer live spans in semi-wooded preserves than in zoos.
Feld Entertainment won a multi-million dollar settlement in 2014 against a group of animal-right groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, over accusations of mistreating the elephants. But despite that legal success, the retirement of the elephants represents a bowing to the wishes of an American public more concerned about the care of animals than generations before.
Payne told the Washington Post last year after the announcement of retiring the elephants, Feld was in the entertainment business "not in the business of fighting city hall."