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Ringling Bros. Circus elephants take final bow, ending controversial spectacle

The Ringling Bros. Circus has ended a 145-year spectacle that delighted fans but enraged animal activists, who say the highly publicized retirement of elephants is not enough.

Circus acts with wild animals remain legal throughout most of the U.S.

Performing elephants entered the arena for the matinee on their final day of shows in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., on Sunday.

(Andrew Kelly/Reuters)
(Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Amid controversy, circus elephants head to retirement.

By sending these animals into retirement, the circus has ended a 145-year spectacle that delighted fans but enraged animal activists, who say the highly publicized retirement is not enough.

(Andrew Kelly/Reuters) (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)
(Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Bonnie, Juliette and nine other female Asian elephants retired earlier than originally planned, reflecting a shift in U.S. attitudes toward animal entertainment.

(Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Smaller U.S. circuses still include 69 elephants.

While glad that the Ringling elephants are leaving their travelling days behind, animal activists are critical of the company's Polk City, Fla., facility that will serve as their retirement home.

"[It's] nothing more than a breeding facility, where elephants are chained for approximately 16 hours a day or more in concrete-floored barns and still beaten with bullhooks," said PETA spokeswoman Katie Arth.

(Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

The 'retirement' facility focuses on conservation, breeding and research.

A Reuters reporter who toured the camp in October saw dozens of elephants corralled in groups of twos and threes in scrub-filled areas about the size of suburban backyards that gave them enough room to walk around and included toys.

At night they stay in large barns, with their feet often chained to keep them from stealing each other's food.

(Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Wild animal circus acts remain largely legal in the United States.

At least 17 countries have outlawed circus acts featuring wild animals, but Hawaii may be the first state to ban them and more than a dozen municipalities have enacted their own prohibitions.

(Andrew Kelly/Reuters)
(Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Lions and tigers and pythons … oh my.

Other wild animals continue as circus headliners, including at Ringling Bros., which tours with 28 tigers, six lions, one leopard, two kangaroos and three pythons, according to Stephen Payne, a spokesman for the circus's parent company, Feld Entertainment.

(Andrew Kelly/Reuters)
(Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

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