Animal Activists Praise Ringling Bros. For Shutdown

January 17, 2017
Kerry Lengyel

After close to 150 years in operation, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will cease all performances this year as a result of declining attendance combined with high operating costs.

After a 146-year run, Feld Entertainment has announced that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will hold its final performances this May.

The circus, long known as “The Greatest Show on Earth,” is shutting down largely due to declining attendance combined with high operating costs.

Animal activists around the globe are weighing in on the news, saying that this was the right decision for the circus to make. Activist groups have long opposed Ringling Bros. and other circuses because they are grounded on what activists believe to be inhumane wild animal acts.

The circus was started in 1919 when Phineas Taylor Barnum and James Anthony Bailey merged their show with the Ringling Bros. show. In 1967, Feld Entertainment purchased the circus and has been operating it ever since.

The company, which has grown to about 500 employees, has made drastic changes over the years in the way animals are handled. But these changes didn’t come fast enough for animal activists.

Protests and legal battles from animal rights groups hit the circus hard over the past few years. To ease some of the tension, Ringling Bros. ended its use of elephants in the show last year and retired them to the Center for Elephant Conservation, a reserve in central Florida owned by the circus. Removing the elephants caused ticket sales to plummet more dramatically than anticipated. "We know now that one of the major reasons people came to Ringling Bros. was getting to see elephants," said Feld CEO Juliette Feld. "We stand by that decision. [But] this was what audiences wanted to see and it definitely played a major role."

While animal rights groups applauded the elephants’ removal, the move was not enough. Studies show that the needs of wild animals in traveling circuses are not met. The animals are usually confined in small spaces, deprived of exercise and social interaction, and chained up for excessive amounts of time. In 2011, Feld Entertainment paid the Department of Agriculture a fine of $270,000 for alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act, although the company never admitted to any wrongdoing.

For these reasons, animal activists dubbed the circus “The Saddest Show on Earth,” and applauded the decision to shut down.

Feld Entertainment expressed that operating a circus was becoming more and more difficult, and it was no longer viable or relevant in the modern entertainment world. Homes will be found for all the retiring animals, but the company will continue to operate the Center for Elephant Conservation.

PETA made a statement calling out other similar organizations, saying, “All other animal circuses, roadside zoos, and wild animal exhibitors, including marine amusement parks like SeaWorld and the Miami Seaquarium, must take note: society has changed, eyes have been opened, people know now who these animals are, and we know it is wrong to capture and exploit them.”

Between now and May, the circus will perform a total of 30 shows, mostly in the South and on the East Coast, with final stops in Providence, Rhode Island on May 7 and Uniondale, New York on May 21.