Ringling Brothers is a company that runs circuses. (Ringling Brothers is owned by Feld Entertainment.)
Elephants perform in the circuses.
For a long time, they have been a very important part of the circuses.
On Thursday, Ringling Brothers announced that they will stop using elephants in the circuses.
They will phase out elephants. Each year, they will use elephants less.
By 2018, there will be no more elephants in their circuses.
When did elephants start appearing in circuses?
"This is something that has been a big deal historically,"
-- Janet Davis, circus historian and professor at the University of Texas.
Elephants were in many circuses as early as the 1850s.
The Barnum & Bailey Circus started in 1875. It had elephants.
(It later merged with the Ringling Brothers circus. It's now called the "Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus", or just "The Ringling Brothers".)
In 1883, P.T. Barnum started showing a white elephant. Many people had never heard of a white elephant.
Another circus also started showing a white elephant ...
... but that elephant was fake. It was only painted white.
Why did Ringling Brothers decide to stop using elephants?
In 1998, Kenny, a 3-year-old Asian elephant, died.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said that Kenny had been mistreated.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture investigated.
They dropped the complaint. They did not find find that Ringling Brothers was guilty of mistreating Kenny.
The next year, in 1999, Benjamin, a 4-year-old elephant, also died.
In 2009, PETA published a video of elephants being mistreated. Warning: this video is very disturbing.
In 2011, Mother Jones, a news organization, published a report about Ringling Brothers elephants.
The report is called "The Cruelest Show on Earth". You can read it here.
"We’re not reacting to our critics,"
-- Kenneth Feld, Feld Entertainment President
"The legislative landscape has become a patchwork quilt of really unnecessary restrictions and prohibitions around the country"
-- Stephen Payne, Feld Entertainment spokesman
What will happen to the current elephants?
13 elephants act in Ringling Brothers circuses now.
In Florida, Feld Entertainment has an elephant conservation center.
There are 40 retired elephants there now.
By 2018, the remaining 13 elephants will also retire and join the others in the conservation center.
What do other groups say?
There were three groups that were very important in making this change happen. They were the Humane Society, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).
"This is startling and tremendously exciting"
-- Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society president and CEO
"The public won’t tolerate the abuse of elephants with sharp bullhooks or the constant chaining of these highly intelligent and mobile animals,"
-- Wayne Pacelle
"We're thrilled with this announcement ..."
-- Delcianna Winders, deputy general counsel for PETA
"... but it has to come much quicker than three years. Three years is too long to wait for animals suffering tremendously."
-- Delcianna Winders
"This is a tremendous victory for the elephants, and for everyone who fought for this change."
-- Matt Bershadker, ASPCA president and CEO