POLK CITY, Fla. (AP) — Elephants have always been part of The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, ever since showman P.T. Barnum brought Jumbo, "a massive 12-foot African elephant," to America in 1882 to star in the "Greatest Show on Earth." Whenever the circus came to town, parades of pachyderms heralded its arrival, drawing patriotic crowds that boosted sales and even attracted vote-hungry politicians. Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus, still keeps 43 elephants, 13 of which are performing. But years of pressure from activists alleging abuse have caused a "mood shift" among consumers, circus executive Alana Feld told The Associated Press, and the Feld family would rather spend money on elephant care than lawyers. The Felds say they'll phase out elephant acts by 2018 as the remaining performers retire to their 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida.
Here is a selection of photos depicting elephants through the years at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.