Ringling Bros. elephants perform last show

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.