Not every circus animal works until their last breath. Some animals get to live the twilight of their years away from the daily grind of perching on their hind legs or jumping through hoops. When the Great British Circus sold off their animals in 2012, they actually advertised their goods — a zebra and two horses — in ads in the back of Horse and Hound Magazine [source: Animal Defenders International].
And you might be surprised to know that some animals with the circus aren't owned by the show at all, but have private owners that lease out the animals. Upon retirement from work, they're back to being the responsibility of the owner [source: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey]. Some elephants also go to zoos, where they exist in communities of elephants. But it seems many of the animals go to wildlife sanctuaries. Both an elephant and a big cat sanctuary are run by Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Florida.