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Sunday night marked the last and final show for the dancing, twirling, talented elephants at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Ringings final 11 performing elephants took the stage in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island on Sunday for the last time, ending 145 years of circus tradition by “The Greatest Show On Earth.”

“This is a very emotional time for us,” Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson told the crowd in Providence, Rhode Island.

“We love our girls,” Lee said of the elephants. “Thank you so much for so many years of joy. That’s history tonight there, ladies and gentlemen, true American icons.”

The move to retire the elephants from the famous show comes after years of protests by animal rights activists. “(It’s) nothing more than a breeding facility, where elephants are chained for approximately 16 hours a day or more in concrete-floored barns and still beaten with bullhooks,” PETA’s Arth said. “When they’re allowed outside, they’re confined to small, virtually barren paddocks.”

Ryan Henning, animal trainer at the show for 12 years, called the change “bittersweet” and said the one moment he will miss most is when the curtain opens for the first time. “When the elephants peek through the curtain … the crowd’s reaction just goes crazy,” he said.

The elephants will now live at the 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida with the rest of the retired elephants.

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