Retiring circus elephants make final stop in Raleigh

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The “Greatest Show on Earth” is making a stop in Raleigh this weekend and it’s one of the last times you’ll be able to see their biggest act.

WNCN got to go behind the scenes with trainers Thursday to talk about the retirement of Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey’s elephants.

“Her name is Asia. She’s one of five beautiful Asian elephants traveling on the show here with us,” said Ryan Henning, introducing one of the elephants he works with on the show.

Henning has been with the circus for 12 years. He’s the assistant animal superintendent. He said Asia is 48 years old and has been in the circus business more than half her life. Now she, along with ten other elephants, will be retiring to a conservation facility in Florida.

“It’s tough, you know it’s a tough transition, it is bitter sweet. But again it comes down to conservation and ensuring these guys will be around for many, many generations,” said Henning.

By the end of May the facility will be home to around 40 Asian elephants. Not only is the move aimed at keeping the species alive, the elephants will also be a part of pediatric cancer research.

“They’re trying to link, or find a key link between elephants and a treatment for cancer,” said Henning.

The transition was also influenced by dollars and cents. Taking care of the gentle giants on tour is costly, around $65,000 a year.

The decision to retire the elephants has been met with mixed reaction.

PETA issued a release on its website saying it’s a step in the right direction. However the animal rights group is still calling for the end of all circus animal acts, saying they are abusive. Henning disagrees.

“We have some of the best individuals from around the world providing all of our animal family members with the highest standards of care 24/7,” he said.

One thing is for sure, saying goodbye won’t be easy.

“We’re with them 24/7. They are basically like our family members,” said Henning.

The circus will be in town through Sunday. You can find ticket and show time information here.

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