IN THE GREEN SWAMP (FOX 13) - In they lumbered, up to a 100-foot-long table piled high with hay, celery, carrots, and lettuce. Then, they munched. It was a welcome home brunch on Friday for Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus' biggest performers, its famed elephants who will no longer be performing in the ring.
They will now be living out their days at Ringling's Center for Elephant Conservation in a rural part of Polk County. They joined 28 other elephants already living at the farm.
Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling, decided to retire the elephants in the wake of increasing pressure from animal rights groups.
It's not unusual for an elephant to live 60 or 70 years. These elephants will spend the rest of their days in semi-retirement at the center. Along with relaxing in the Florida sun, they will be involved in cancer research and breeding.
Asian elephants are considered endangered.
"Because their natural habitat is being destroyed and because of poaching," said Ryan Henning, assistant animal supervisor.
According to some estimates, there are as few as 25,000 Asian elephants left.
"So, if we don't up the number of Asian elephants in the United States, we're not going to have elephants in 50 years," Janice Aria, director of animal stewardship, told FOX 13.
The center is at an undisclosed location in the Green Swamp and not open to the public.