Inside look: Where Ringling's elephants retire

Ken Suarez reports - March, 2015

- The Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus has announced that it will retire the elephants from its shows sooner than expected -- in just a few months.

Last year, when their retirement was first set for 2018, FOX 13 got a tour of the Ringling Brothers Elephant Conservation Center, the facility where the elephants will live out their days.

It's in an undisclosed location that spans 200 acres in the Green Swamp area of northern Polk County.

"Ringling Brothers Center for Elephant Conservation is all about preserving the Asian Elephant," said Melinda Hartline, a Ringling spokeswoman.

Some of the former show elephants will retire at the center and just live out their lives. Others will be used for breeding.

A century ago, there were 100,000 Asian Elephants in the wild. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the population is now between 25,000 and 32,000.

The decline is due to a combination of issues like poaching and habitat destruction.

The elephants born at the center could be sold to zoos or other breeding programs with the hope of increasing genetic diversity in their herd. The ultimate goal is to help the population of Asian elephants rebound.

Right now, there are 20 people who work at the center, feeding, caring for and managing the pachyderms, some who live on the property. Ringling says it will need the next few years to size up the situation and determine if they will need more staff and additional facilities.

Despite what may seem to some like ideal living conditions, animal rights groups -- including PETA -- have problems with the situation. They have begun a campaign to force Ringling to take the elephants off the road sooner.

Ringling's long-term adversaries also have issues with management practices at the center. The center ties some elephants by the leg overnight.

PETA says that is outdated and causes medical problems.

"Zoos don't chain elephants and the American Veterinary Medical Association advises against it," said Delciana Winders, general counsel for PETA.

Despite criticism, Ringling is moving full speed ahead and plans to give its elephants a new career far from the ring.

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