The herd of 11 Asian elephants that have worked for the Ringling Bros. Circus for decades have cause for celebration this week. The traveling circus announced that the herd will be punching the clock for the last time this May, 18 months earlier than expected. The elephants new home will be the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation.
The herd ranges from ages 5 to 47. The youngest elephant, April, will be returning to her mother after a year of service to the circus.
The original decision came in March after years of mounting pressure and accusations by animal rights activists that the circus was abusing the elephants. Stephen Payne, the vice president of corporate communications of Feld Entertainment, Ringling’s parent company, insisted that the new decision came under no “external factors,” and that the early retirement came as a result of open space of the conservation.
“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,” Payne said in an interview with National Geographic. “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.”
Although you can argue that the decision came a little late, it’s hard to be upset with the steady progress of animal rights the past year. From SeaWorld’s start to ending orca shows, to the National Institute of Health retiring all chimpanzees from their laboratories, the victories are starting to add up.
The herd will join a group of 29 other Asian elephants already on the conservation who are free from circus life and are contributing to an important cause. In a study published in October, researchers found that DNA found in Asian and African elephants may hold the key to a new breakthrough in cancer research. Humans and other mammals have one gene called P53 that may help in the fight against tumors. These elephants have 20 of the same gene. So, this news is an important step in the right direction for the conservation of these awesome creatures.