As nostalgic as circuses were for many of us growing up, the “Greatest Show on Earth” is taking its final curtain call this May. In following this story for almost two years, I’ve reported on the waning public interest in circuses, due mainly to animal activist groups protesting against the maltreatment associated with animals held in captivity.
Starting with the Elephants . . .
Early signs that the Ringling Brothers’ Barnum & Baily Circus were to take down their tents began with the elephants. In March, 2015, word was out that the long-standing symbol of this particular circus for more than 144 years would no longer being starring in its iconic featured role.
Executives from Feld Entertainment, Ringling's parent company, said in a release that the 13 elephants currently traveling with its circus units would be retired in 2018. At that point in time, they will join the 40 currently under care at the 200-acre Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida. The decision came about after years of debate, but Alana Feld, the company’s executive vice president said, “there’s been somewhat of a mood shift among our consumers (where) a lot of people aren’t comfortable with us touring with our elephants."
The Feld organization now owns 43 elephants, and 29 of the giant animals live at the company's 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida. Thirteen animals will continue to tour with the circus before retiring to the center by 2018. Another elephant is on a breeding loan to the Fort Worth Zoo (which as another venue that capitalizes on captive animals is also seeing some negative push-back from the public.)
Congress weighs in . . .
If U.S. Representative Jim Moran had had his way, the days of traveling circuses would have already come to an end. In 2014, he took an historic stand for animals by reintroducing the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act (H.R. 4525), which would end the use of wild and exotic animals in traveling circuses, over concerns about their welfare and safety.
Unfortunately that bill died in Congress. One of the detractors of the bill, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus issued a statement, where. Stephen Payne, vice president of corporate communications for Feld Entertainment said, “This bill doesn’t do anything to improve animal care. We’re the experts on taking care of our animals; we’ve been doing it for over 140 years.”
These times, they are changing . . .
In January, 2017, the Feld organization came to grips with the inevitable. In a statement to the Associated Press they announced their circuses would finally close forever in May.
The final decision was based on a variety of factors, company executives said. Declining attendance combined with high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups all contributed to its demise.
Ringling Bros. has two touring circuses this season and will perform 30 shows between now and May. Major stops include Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston and Brooklyn. The final shows will be in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 7 and in Uniondale, New York, at the Nassau County Coliseum on May 21.
If you still have a tinge of nostalgia tugging at you to see the spectacle of a circus, before it fades into the history books, now is the time. But from where I sit, I’m okay to keep my childhood memories and look to the future where elephant, tigers and bears will all be much happier and safer living out their lives in conservation retreats around the country How about you?