(Reuters/Jason Reed)

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, after years of clashes with animal-rights activists and growing efforts by some local governments to outlaw devices used to wrangle animals, will halt its elephant acts this spring and retire all of its touring elephants to a sanctuary in Florida.

The end of Ringling’s elephant acts, a circus staple for generations, is happening a year and a half earlier than planned. Feld Entertainment, the circus’s parent company, announced last March that it planned to retire Ringling’s remaining Asian elephants by 2018. But on Monday, the company said it would send the iconic elephants to the Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida by May.

A company spokeswoman said that after officials began preparing for the move, they realized they could transfer the nearly dozen touring elephants “much sooner than anticipated.” She said the move would bring the total number of elephants at the center to 42, and would allow the company to focus on its Asian elephant conservation program, as well as an ongoing research project into why there is such a low incidence of cancer in elephants.

[The long battle to remove elephants from the Ringling Bros. circus]

Animal-rights activists have long sought to compel Ringling’s use of elephants acts in the circus, often taking legal action over allegations of abuse and systematic mistreatment. Ringling, meanwhile, has maintained that its trainers lovingly look after the elephants and have an “excellent record of care for all our animals.” In 2014, Feld Entertainment won a multi-million settlement against a collection of animal-rights groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, over unproven allegations that the circus was mistreating elephants.

In addition to years of controversy and litigation, the circus also was facing a wave of local legislation that made it difficult to organize its annual traveling tours.” Oakland, Calif., Los Angeles and other cities have banned the use of bullhooks, a tool that resembles a fire poker and is used by trainers to control elephants. Asheville, N.C., instituted a ban on shows with wild and exotic animals.

“We looked across the legislative landscape that was out there and it’s become a patchwork quilt of really unnecessary restrictions and prohibitions around the country,” Feld Entertainment spokesman Stephen Payne told the Post last year during the initial announcement that the circus would phase out its elephant acts. He added that the company is in the entertainment business, “not in the business of fighting city hall.”

Monday’s news was met with a wide range of reactions across social media.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, for instance, scoffed at the idea of a Ringling Bros. circus without elephants:

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, couldn’t have felt more differently:

Meanwhile, the circus’s traveling elephants still have shows to perform before their May retirement date. Here are two heading to a recent show inside the Amalie Arena in Tampa: