It's been a standing lunch date for 33 years, but on Wednesday the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey elephants attended the last “Brunch with the Elephants” at Lexington Market.
Feld Entertainment, the parent company of the circus, made the decision to phase out their traveling Asian elephants from the circus by May. Last March, they announced they would retire their elephants in 2018, now they expect to do it a year and half sooner than planned.
“It absolutely is bittersweet, the elephants have been a part of the Greatest Show on Earth for 146 years now,” said David Shipman, ringmaster of Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Bailey Presents Circus XTREME.
Once they finish this year’s tour, the elephants will be relocated to Florida where researchers will focus on conservation and cancer research.
“We decided that we were going to be repurposing them at the Center for Elephant Conservation. We have announced some incredible information recently, we've discovered they might actually hold the key to cancer,” said Shipman.
Crowds filled Lexington Market to get a glimpse of the elephants dining on apples, bananas, bread, and watermelon. Their retirement means the end to a long-standing tradition that many will miss.
“I am sad but I know it's definitely going to help them and help conserve the elephants,” said Kelsey Gilbert, who attended the brunch with her mom.
“It's been a part of the circus even before I was born, so to hear that they're not performing anymore is rather bittersweet,” said Dante Miles who was there with his son Kendal.
It's also a tradition that animal rights activists have been working for a long time to end.
“Cruelty is not entertainment but I think a lot of people are unaware of that,” said Dave Bucklin, an animal rights activist against inhumane treatment of circus animals.
He said he won’t be satisfied until all circuses are animal-free.
“Women not voting was a tradition, slavery was a tradition in our country, there's lots of awful traditions all around the world including animal cruelty. So because it's a tradition it doesn't make it right, doesn't make it any less cruel and I would hope intelligent people realize that we should evolve as a society and do better for all God's creatures,” Bucklin said.
Performances of Ringling Bros. And Barnum & Bailey Presents Circus XTREME will continue through this Sunday, March 27 at Royal Farms Arena.