A victim of changing tastes and times, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus has announced that it is folding up the big tent forever. In a January 14 statement on the company’s website, Kenneth Feld, the chief executive of Feld Entertainment, said that last Ringling circus l performances will come in May of this year. The phasing out of elephants, largely due to complaints from animal rights groups, coupled with declining ticket sales, spelled doom for this American tradition.
The statement read, “This, coupled with high operating costs, made the circus an unsustainable business for the company.” It added, “The circus and its people have continually been a source of inspiration and joy to my family and me.” The closing will affect 400 employees. They were informed of the decision on the evening of January 14 after shows in Orlando and Miami. Feld told the Associated Press that the decision has been “very difficult decision for me and for the entire family.”
Circus fans will still have chance to see two touring circuses this year that will perform 30 shows between now and May. The circus will come to town in Atlanta, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington. The farewell shows will come on May 7 in Providence RI, and on May 21 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale NY. The last performances in New York City will be from Feb. 23 to March 23 at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The cost of providing a travelling school for performers’ children, and transportation by rail, were also cited as contributing to the demise of the circus.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has long alleged that animals in the circus, especially elephants, have been mistreated. PETA was quick to declare victory. In a statement, Ingrid Newkirk of PETA, declared: “After 36 years of PETA protests, which have awoken the world to the plight of animals in captivity, PETA heralds the end of what has been the saddest show on earth for wild animals, and asks all other animal circuses to follow suit, as this is a sign of changing time.” The CEO of The Human Society, Wayne Pacelle, also expressed satisfaction at the demise of the circus.
In May 2016, the Ringling circus removed its elephants from performances and put them out to pasture at a conservation refuge in central Florida. Elephants had been synonymous with the Ringling circus since at least 1882, when founder Phineas T. Barnum brought an Asian elephant dubbed Jumbo to America.
A lengthy lawsuit contributed to the company’s troubles. Feld Entertainment won $25.2 million in settlements from groups including the Humane Society of the United States in 2014, thus ending a 14-year fight over allegations that circus employees mistreated elephants. But over time, public perceptions changed and attendance dropped. Once the elephants were gone, sales showed a dramatic drop, according to a company spokesman.
While some circus performers will be transferred to Feld’s other shows, such as Monster Jam, Disney on Ice and Marvel Live, the majority will be out of work.