Farewell, 'The Greatest Show on Earth'

Animal trainer and performer Mark Oliver Gebel rides an elephant during the Grand Parade at the start of the 133rd edition of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus at the Fleet Center in Boston, Saturday, Oct. 9, 2004. (AP Photo/ Robert E. Klein)

Sunday night, after 146 years of entertaining “children of all ages,” Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus will cease operations for good.

The decision to close the circus was made in January when a combination of high operating costs and lower ticket sales spelled doom for the American institution.


PETA is taking credit for closing the show and putting hundreds of people out of work. Yes, but at least the elephants will now be safe.

The parent company of the circus, Feld Entertainment, Inc., cited the company’s decision to phase out the elephant act as a major reason for lower ticket sales. Feld finally gave in after years of misleading and false charges from PETA resulted in protests  everywhere the circus performed.


Although it retired its elephants, Ringling Bros continued to showcase tigers, lions, horses, dogs and camels until the end, despite fierce criticism from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

The animal rights group tied Ringling’s demise to its long-standing resistance to demands that it stop using animals.

“Circuses around the world that beat Ringling to the punch in making the decision to stop using animals are thriving. But Ringling stonewalled for decades,” PETA said in a statement posted on its website on Saturday.

A representative of Ringling Bros could not be reached on Sunday for comment, but in the past it defended its treatment of animals as humane.

In December, Ringling Bros named Kristen Michelle Wilson as the first female ringmaster in its 146-year history. In making her the 39th person to play the role of circus host, Feld said it was taking a step toward modernizing the circus.

The 13 Asian elephants used in Ringling’s two touring companies were phased out and retired to the company’s 200-acre (81 hectare) Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk City, Florida.

Fewer than 40,000 Asian elephants remain in the wild. About 250 are in captivity in the United States, 26 of which were born in the past 20 years at Ringling facilities.


PETA is giving itself far too much credit. What killed Ringling Brothers Circus was the changing economics of the business. If you look around the world at other circuses, they are much smaller and many of them have a permanent home. Ringling Brothers had to transport a mountain of equipment, thousands of people, and hundreds of animals from venue to venue. They had to compete with all the modern choices where consumers can spend their entertainment dollars. Also, the best circus acts aren’t cheap. To try and maintain ticket prices at a reasonable level where most families could come and enjoy the show just wasn’t possible.

When the lights go down, all that will be left will be the memories of the circus and the impact it made on the American consciousness.


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