Ringling Bros. elephants perform last show

Updated 2:24 AM EDT, Mon May 2, 2016
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus elephants perform during Barnum's FUNundrum in New York on March 26, 2010. Barnum's FUNdrum, the latest show from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, was put together to create a 200th birthday salute to Phineas Taylor Barnum (P.T. Barnum), founder of the circus. The show, which will travel across the US in a mile-long train, presents some 130 perfomers from six continents and will be on tour for the next two years.  AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus elephants perform during Barnum's FUNundrum in New York on March 26, 2010. Barnum's FUNdrum, the latest show from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, was put together to create a 200th birthday salute to Phineas Taylor Barnum (P.T. Barnum), founder of the circus. The show, which will travel across the US in a mile-long train, presents some 130 perfomers from six continents and will be on tour for the next two years. AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
05:33
Where the Ringling elephants now live
Zambia 2 elephant South Luangwa
Christopher Clark
Zambia 2 elephant South Luangwa
Now playing
01:48
US to allow some imports of elephant trophies
japan oldest elephant orig_00030506.jpg
japan oldest elephant orig_00030506.jpg
Now playing
03:10
Meet Hanako, Japan's oldest elephant
Protecting Asian elephants Allen pkg_00004611.jpg
Protecting Asian elephants Allen pkg_00004611.jpg
Now playing
02:16
Camera captures rare footage of Asian elephant herd
kenya ivory burn kriel live_00003905.jpg
kenya ivory burn kriel live_00003905.jpg
Now playing
01:48
'You can feel the heat of the ivory burn'
IYW Ian Somerhalder Wildaid elephants_00000619.jpg
IYW Ian Somerhalder Wildaid elephants_00000619.jpg
Now playing
01:22
Actor Ian Somerhalder's mission to save elephants
Now playing
01:29
Rescue giraffe becomes friend with baby elephants
india elephant runs amok seg_00001608.jpg
Reuters
india elephant runs amok seg_00001608.jpg
Now playing
00:45
Elephant rampages through Indian neighborhood
A pair of wild elephants lock trunks as they stray close to Kolabari village in Naxalbari, some 50 kms from Siliguri, on June 4, 2014. Indian forest guards along with local villagers used firecrackers to scare away the wild elephants, following sighting of the herd which created unease among local villagers. Human-elephant conflicts are on the rise in India as villagers and farmers encroach on the natural habitats of pachyderms. AFP PHOTO/ Diptendu DUTTA        (Photo credit should read DIPTENDU DUTTA/AFP/Getty Images)
DIPTENDU DUTTA/AFP/AFP/Getty Images
A pair of wild elephants lock trunks as they stray close to Kolabari village in Naxalbari, some 50 kms from Siliguri, on June 4, 2014. Indian forest guards along with local villagers used firecrackers to scare away the wild elephants, following sighting of the herd which created unease among local villagers. Human-elephant conflicts are on the rise in India as villagers and farmers encroach on the natural habitats of pachyderms. AFP PHOTO/ Diptendu DUTTA (Photo credit should read DIPTENDU DUTTA/AFP/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:30
Is this why elephants don't get cancer?
Now playing
00:45
Baby elephant falls into well
world elephant day orig_00013305.jpg
world elephant day orig_00013305.jpg
Now playing
01:51
Celebrating World Elephant Day
saving elephants kriel pkg_00000725.jpg
saving elephants kriel pkg_00000725.jpg
Now playing
03:52
Teaching Kenya's orphaned elephants to 'go wild'

Story highlights

The elephants' last show was in Rhode Island

The elephants will be moved to a conservation center in Florida

(CNN) —  

After decades of giant tricks and synchronized dances, the elephants at Ringling Bros. performed their final act Sunday.

The elephants’ last show was in Providence, RI, nearly two years before the pachyderms’ expected retirement.

“In March of last year, Feld Entertainment announced all of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s touring elephants would move to the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation by 2018.

The animals are going to the facility a bit earlier.

When the initial retirement announcement was made in March, Ringling Bros. had 13 elephants traveling for its shows. When they are moved, 42 Asian elephants will call the Conservation Center home.

Then the parade of elephants sauntered off the stage in the exact way they had arrived, in a slow, synchronized march holding the tail of the elephant in front of them as their last show was streamed live on Facebook.

The elephants’ final exit from the circus brought back memories for people who grew up with the circus.

Outcry from animal rights groups

The retirement marked the end of an era for the elephants, which were a big part of the Ringling Bros.’ performances. For years, the elephants and their dance routines featured prominently in the shows.

But several animal rights groups repeatedly criticized, picketed and sued Ringling Bros. for their treatment of the animals.

In 2011, Feld Entertainment agreed to pay a fine of $270,000 to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act. The company did not admit wrongdoing but promised to implement new training for all personnel who handle animals.

On Sunday, animal activists, including PETA were there to protest the treatment of the animals.

Other animals

The elephants may be gone, but other animals will stay put.

Last year, Ringling Bros. said their shows “will continue to feature other extraordinary animal performers, including tigers, lions, horses, dogs and camels.”

When the initial retirement announcement was made, Ringling Bros. had 13 elephants traveling for their shows. When they are moved, 42 Asian elephants will call the conservation center home.

The Ringling Bros.’ elephant conservation center sits on 200 acres of land in rural Florida, halfway between Orlando and Sarasota.

The circus visits about 115 cities each year with a full cast of between 250 and 300 people.

CNN’s Devon Sayers, Gregory Wallace and Madison Park contributed to this report.