“The Greatest Show on Earth” has reached the end of the road: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced Saturday that, after 146 years, the traveling spectacle will hold its final performances in May.
“After much evaluation and deliberation, my family and I have made the difficult business decision,” Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, the company that produces the Ringling Bros. circus, said in a statement.
“Ticket sales have been declining, but following the transition of the elephants off the road, we saw an even more dramatic drop. This, coupled with high operating costs, made the circus an unsustainable business for the company.”
In 2016, following demands from animal rights groups, Ringling Bros. removed elephants from the traveling production and settled the animals in a Florida reserve.
Both of Ringling Bros. current productions – Circus XTREME and Out of This World – will end in May; the former concludes May 7th at Providence, Rhode Island’s Dunkin’ Donuts Center, while the latter bows out May 21st at Uniondale, New York’s Nassau Coliseum. Each production will make 30 more stops between Saturday’s announcement and the May finale.
Ringling Bros. was founded in Baraboo, Wisconsin, in 1884 by five of the seven Ringling brothers; in 1919, the touring circus merged with P.T. Barnum and James Anthony Bailey’s namesake production. The Feld family purchased the circus in 1967 and sold it to toymaker Mattel for a decade before buying it back in 1984.
“Nearly 50 years ago, my father founded our company with the acquisition of Ringling Bros. The circus and its people have continually been a source of inspiration and joy to my family and me, which is why this was such a tough business decision to make,” Feld continued.
“The decision was even more difficult because of the amazing fans that have become part of our extended circus family over the years, and we are extremely grateful to the millions of families who have made Ringling Bros. part of their lives for generations. We know Ringling Bros. isn’t only our family business, but also your family tradition.”
Like Sea World, which has seen its attendance decline following outcry from animal rights group, Ringling Bros. has been criticized for the treatment of their animals.
In 2011, Feld agreed to pay a $270,000 fine to the US Department of Agriculture for alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act, CNN reports.
Both PETA and the Humane Society celebrated the imminent closure of Ringling Bros.
“As of May, the saddest show on earth for wild animals will end. Thirty-six years of PETA protests, of documenting animals left to die, beaten animals, and much more, has reduced attendance to the point of no return,” PETA wrote in a statement.
“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.”
Humane Society CEO Wayne Pacelle said in a statement, “It’s just not acceptable any longer to cart wild animals from city to city and have them perform silly yet coercive stunts. I know this is bittersweet for the Feld family, but I applaud their decision to move away from an institution grounded on inherently inhumane wild animal acts.”