Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus retiring its elephants today

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(CNN) — After years of giant tricks and synchronized dances, the elephants at Ringling Bros. will perform in one final act Sunday.

The elephants’ last show will be in Providence, RI, the circus said, nearly two years before the pachyderms’ expected retirement.

The Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, had said all its touring elephants would head to a Florida conservation center by 2018.

It appears the animals are going to the facility a bit earlier.

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Outcry from animal rights groups

The retirement marks the end of an an era for the elephants, which had been a big part of the Ringling Bros.’ performances.

For years, the elephants and their graceful dance routines featured prominently in the shows.

But several animal rights groups repeatedly criticized, picketed and sued the Ringling Bros. for its treatment of the animals.

In 2011, the circus was fined $270,000 by the USDA for violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

Other animals

The elephants may be gone, but other animals will stay put.

Last year, Ringling Bros. said its shows “will continue to feature other extraordinary animal performers, including tigers, lions, horses, dogs and camels.”

When the initial retirement announcement was made, Ringling Bros. had 13 elephants traveling for its shows. When they are moved, 42 Asian elephants will call the conservation center home.

The Ringling Bros.’ elephant conservation center sits on 200 acres of land in rural Florida, halfway between Orlando and Sarasota.

The circus visits about 115 cities each year with a full cast of between 250 and 300 people.

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