Animal rights activists rejoice that Ringling Bros. circus is now history

Ringling elephants
CC BY 2.0 Tom Driggers

After 146 years of performing, the public no longer wants to watch animal entertainment acts.

On Sunday, May 21, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus held its final show ever, after 146 years of performing for Americans. The company has been in a downward spiral for years, as public attitudes toward animal circuses have shifted. People are increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of keeping intelligent animals captive and training them, often cruelly, for entertainment.

When the announcement was made in January, the company’s chairman Kenneth Feld cited decades of conflict with animal welfare groups as a major influencer in the decision, and those groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Humane Society of the U.S., are happy to take credit. NPR cites Lisa Lange, PETA’s senior vice president of communications:

“People no longer have a taste for that kind of entertainment. But we believe it's because they now know what that kind of entertainment costs those animals.”

Back in 2014, Ringling had said it would phase out its elephant act by 2018, but that led to a rapid drop in ticket sales, resulting in the eventual announcement this past January that the animal acts would cease altogether.

From frequent protests outside the circus, to costly protracted lawsuits that resulted in many cities creating local ordinances to limit animal acts, it became too difficult for Ringling to operate as it once did. These “burdensome local ordinances,” according to the Humane Society's Paul Shapiro who spoke at the Reducetarian Summit in New York City this past weekend, are evidence that working with one’s local congressperson is a tremendously effective way to shape national corporate behavior.

Another reason mentioned for the closure of the so-called "Greatest Show on Earth" is declining attention spans in a smartphone-addicted generation. Apparently the entire show had been cut from three hours to just over two, with the longest act – with tigers – clocking in at 12 minutes.

Now, 40 to 50 elephants, tigers, camels, horses, llamas, and goats will be placed in new homes. Elephants will go to the Ringling Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida. TIME reports that it costs Ringling “about $65,000 per year to maintain each elephant. That includes giving the elephants daily baths and regular pedicures, according to a National Geographic profile published in January.” The others will go to zoos and conservation centers across the U.S.

Says Stephen Payne, VP of corporate communications for Feld Entertainment, the company that owns Ringling:

“We have a lifetime commitment to these animals. We obviously will want to continue to provide care for all of them regardless of what happens ultimately with the circus.”

Tags: Animal Rights | Animals | Animal Welfare

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