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Students say goodbye to retiring Ringling Bros. elephants

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PROSPECT HEIGHTS, Brooklyn— Ringling Bro. and Barnum and Bailey Circus played host to students from two schools in Brooklyn at Barclays Center on Wednesday,  giving them a chance to see the elephants one last time before they retire.

The children from P.S. 310 and P.S. 176 were mesmerized by the four pachyderms—each weighing around nine thousand pounds— as they chowed down on carrots, apples, bananas, bread and watermelon.

The Asian elephants, an endangered species, will be taking their final bow on May 1.  Eleven females are retiring, moving out of the world of traveling circuses, and into a 200-acre conservation center in Ocala, Florida, where they will join 30 other retired elephants.

“I’ve created this emotional wall basically to keep me from thinking about it,” said Johnathan Lee Iverson, the show’s ringmaster for the past 18 years.  “They’re beautiful, they’re dynamic, they’re gentle, and  yet they’re so very powerful.”

The announcement in January came after years of protests by animal rights activists, claiming the circus has been mistreating  the huge mammals.  Ringling Bros. parent company, Feld Entertainment, has repeatedly denied the accusations.

“We looked at the legislative landscape, and there were a lot of anti-circus regulations passed in some cities.  We can’t just leave the elephants at the city limits, so we decided rather than take the time, money and all that effort fighting the bills, we’d focus on the conservation,” said Stephen Payne, spokesperson for Feld Entertainment.

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey  show called “Legends” will play at Barclays Center through March 6, followed by a run at the Prudential Center in Newark.

The elephants have been a main attraction at the circus for 145 years.