Responding to mounting criticism, Feld Entertainment’s Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus said Thursday it would end the use of Asian elephants in its traveling shows by 2018.

The move comes in the wake of calls by conservationists, animal activists and others for the circus to end the practice of featuring trained elephants, citing the harsh treatment and unnatural environments that the animals must endure. The 2013 HBO documentary “An Apology to Elephants” put a spotlight on the specific problems that pachyderms face while working in a touring show.

Ringling Bros. said that the 13 elephants now touring with its three editions of “The Greatest Show on Earth” circus will be relocated to the company’s Florida facility, dubbed the Center for Elephant Conservation, by 2018. The center already houses more than 40 Asian elephants, marking one of the world’s largest herds of the endangered species.

“This is the most significant change we have made since we founded the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation in 1995. When we did so, we knew we would play a critical role in saving the endangered Asian elephant for future generations, given how few Asian elephants are left in the wild,” said Feld Entertainment chairman-CEO Kenneth Feld. “Since then, we have had 26 elephant births. No other institution has done or is doing more to save this species from extinction, and that is something of which I and my family are extremely proud. This decision was not easy, but it is in the best interest of our company, our elephants and our customers.”