By the end of the year, circus elephants will no longer be part of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey acts. Feld Entertainment, Ringling's parents company, told the Associated Press "all of the iconic elephants will be permanently retired to the company’s 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida" by May.

Currently, there are 11 elephants touring, but the company had been working on phasing out the pachyderms after years of criticism and animal cruelty allegations (Feld always insisted their animals were treated well; apparently these bull hooks are part of "being treated well"), announcing last year that it would end all elephant acts by 2018.

At the time, PETA said "many of the elephants are painfully arthritic, and many have tuberculosis, so their retirement day needs to come now. Three years is too long for a mother elephant separated from her calf, too long for a baby elephant beaten with the sharp fireplace-poker like weapon called bullhook that Ringling handers use routinely, too long for an animal who roams up to 30 miles a day in the wild to be kept in shackles."

Elephants in Brooklyn, in 2013 (Jake Dobkin / Gothamist)

The AP reports:

It costs about $65,000 yearly to care for each elephant, [Feld VP Alana Feld] said, and the company had to build new structures to house the retiring elephants at the center, located between Orlando and Tampa.

Last year, Feld Entertainment announced that the elephants would be phased out and eventually retired by 2018. Once the company began planning, it realized it could retire the elephants a lot sooner, Feld said...

She said the retired elephants at the CEC will also be part of cancer research.

Cancer is much less common in elephants than in humans, even though the big animals’ bodies have many more cells. That’s a paradox known among scientists, and now researchers think they may have an explanation — one they say might someday lead to new ways to protect people from cancer.

A few days ago, Ringling Tweeted a video from the elephants point-of-view, as the show moved into Tampa: