SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is ending its iconic elephant acts.

The circus’ parent company, Feld Entertainment, says that the acts will be phased out by 2018, citing growing public concern about the animals’ treatment.

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The circus plans to phase out elephant acts by 2018. Feld’s 43 elephants will live at the company’s 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida. Twenty-nine animals are already there. The other 14 will arrive as they are phased out.

Elephant acts have been showcased by Ringling for more than a century.

Other animals will still be part of Ringling’s acts, including the recent addition of a troupe of Mongolion camel stunt riders to the Circus Xtreme show.

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Bay Area animal rights activists have been fighting to stop the acts for years.  Within two hours of Thursday’s announcement, animal rights groups took credit for the decision, saying that the pressure put on the circus ultimately led to Feld’s move.

The group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said that if the decision is serious, the circus should make the move immediately.

“For 35 years PETA has protested Ringling Bros.’ cruelty to elephants,” Ingrid E. Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, wrote in a statement. “We know extreme abuse to these majestic animals occurs every single day, so if Ringling is really telling the truth about ending this horror, it will be a day to pop the champagne corks, and rejoice. … If the decision is serious, then the circus needs to do it NOW.”

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