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Elephants bow out at top US circus

Do Not UseDo Not Use 2/05/2016
Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, 1 May 2016 © Reuters Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, 1 May 2016

Elephants have performed for the last time at one of the top circuses in the United States.

Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, 1 May 2016: US attitudes to performing animals are changing © Reuters US attitudes to performing animals are changing

The 11 Asian females from the Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus are being retired amid changing attitudes to animals used as performance acts.

Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, 1 May 2016: An elephant is prepared before performing at Wilkes-Barre in Pennsylvania © Reuters An elephant is prepared before performing at Wilkes-Barre in Pennsylvania

The animals took to the ring in Providence, Rhode Island, and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, ending nearly a century and a half of tradition.

Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey Circus in Providence, Rhode Island, 1 May 2016: Circus elephant performing goes back 200 years in the US © AP Circus elephant performing goes back 200 years in the US

They will be housed at a conservation centre in Florida run by the company.

Some animal rights activists have criticised the facility, describing it as little more than a breeding centre, with inadequate space for the elephants.

This is disputed by the circus's Center for Elephant Conservation, which says the focus is on animal care, conservation and health. The centre also carries out studies into the apparent ability of elephants to suppress cancer more easily than humans.

At the show in Rhode Island, where six elephants were displayed, ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson described it as an emotional time.

"That's history tonight there, ladies and gentlemen, true American icons,'' he told the crowd.

Elephants have been used in American circuses for 200 years.

Circus pioneer Hachaliah Bailey bought an African elephant, Old Bet, in 1808, said to be the first elephant to perform in the US.

They are still used in other circuses in the US, but in recent years animal rights campaigners have thrown a spotlight on the welfare of these and other animals in the entertainment industry.

In increasing numbers of US cities, it has become harder for circus elephants to perform, with some outlawing the use of the bullhook - a sharp instrument used in training.

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