After more than 100 years on the road, the “Greatest Show on Earth” is coming to a close. With two touring units, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus visits more than 115 to 120 cities annually. More than 10 million people per year pay to see the spectacular event. The circus combines leading cutting-edge technology with long-standing circus traditions the public has come to love over the years. But this year will be its final curtain call.
The circus was founded in 1884 by the Ringling Brothers in Wisconsin. They became so successful that they later bought out the Barnum and Bailey Circus, their biggest competitor. The family sold the business to Feld Entertainment who has owned and operated the show for the last 50 years. According to COE Kenneth Feld, the decision to end the circus was an extremely “difficult decision” to make.
The high cost of operating the annual show, a decline in ticket sales, and major issues such as citations regarding how the circus treats the animals, made the decision inevitable. Feld Entertainment decided in May 2016 to no longer incorporate the Asian elephants, although they considered the elephant performances focal point in the show. Since the decision was made to end use of the elephants, ticket sales were said to have lowered even further.
The main issue the circus had was its treatment of its working animals. People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, Progressive Animal Welfare Society, as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture got involved. Animal rights organizations protested against the circus for many years. They regarded the way the animals were treated as inhumane and sought to make the circus accountable for their actions.
The circus owned and operated The Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation where it employed professionals who were assigned to care for and study its elephants. Yet, animal rights activists insisted the show still failed to maintain adequate care, and meet the many needs of the animals. The circus’s attempts to comply with public outcry were simply not good enough.
Associations like Last Chance for Animals state that Asian elephants can only thrive in the wild and will likely die prematurely in captivity. They state captivity inhibits the animal’s socialization skills and decreases their level of much-needed exercise for optimum health. With animal right’s organizations constantly fighting for these animals, it gives them a chance at survival.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture cited the show over 150 times for noncompliance with the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) since 1990. Feld Entertainment was ordered to pay $270,000, which is the largest penalty ever assessed in a civil action such as this. The majority of the citations reference violations of the AWA regarding treatment of the Asian elephants used in the show.
Children of all ages have enjoyed the extreme fun and amazement that accompanied the circus for these many years. For some, it is considered a loss. Yet, for those who love animals and hate to see them mistreated, it means victory has finally been won.
Do you believe the right decision was made to end the circus for good? Let’s discuss here or on Twitter @lcarterwriter.