POLK CITY, FL (KGO) -- Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus is phasing out its elephant acts over the next three years. The Greatest Show on Earth was under enormous pressure from the public and cities to stop mistreating its elephants, something Ringling Brothers has denied.
"Live entertainment is what we do best and, in order for us to really focus on doing that, we don't want to be fighting off legislation week in and week out, city to city," Feld Entertainment's Alana Feld said.
Deniz Bolbol is the founder of Humanity Through Education, one of many groups fighting Ringling Brothers.
"It was based on public education that led to cities adopting ordinances to protect elephants and ban bullhooks. This was a result of Ringling seeing the writing on the wall," Bolbol said.
Bullhooks had been used for years to get animals to perform.
"I've seen them even use it in their mouth and then they'll take it to hook," Bolbol said.
Thirteen elephants currently tour across the country. All 13 will be retired by 2018 and moved to the company's 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in Central Florida, where Ringling Brothers keeps other elephants.
"It is a bittersweet because the elephants have been on the circus for 145 years," Feld Entertainment's Kenneth Feld said.
They were the lifelong symbol of the circus, which went to great lengths to showcase their elephants.
Thursday's announcement was welcomed by the Oakland Zoo. It has four African elephants in captivity, brought here in the 70s and 80s.
The zoo is seen as a model for others because of its 6.2-acre habitat allowing the elephants to roam freely.
"There are so many other little circuses out there that are still handling elephants really in poor conditions," Oakland Zoo's Jeff Kinzley said.
He and others believe it's only a matter of time before these small circuses also phase out their elephants.