Five years ago, when asked in the face of animal activist protests if the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus could mount shows without performing elephants, a spokesman for the owner essentially said that without pachyderms, there would be no circus.
However, Feld Entertainment announced two years ago that "The Greatest Show on Earth" would continue without elephants, a vow that was made good on at the following annual engagement at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
On Saturday, the Palmetto, Florida-based company announced the show DOES NOT go on. High costs and declining ticket sales, which declined even more after elephants were removed from shows, were cited as the reason two nationally touring Ringling Bros. shows will end their runs forever in May.
"Sadly, as a result of this, the circus will never return to California," writes Stephen Payne, Feld's vice president of Corporate Communications, in an email to the Weekly that also included statements from his bosses.
“Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey was the original property on which we built Feld Entertainment into a global producer of live entertainment over the past 50 years,” said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of the company that sprang out of his father, uncle and a partner buying the circus in the 1960s. “We are grateful to the hundreds of millions of fans who have experienced Ringling Bros. over the years. Between now and May, we will give them one last chance to experience the joy and wonder of Ringling Bros.”
“This was a difficult business decision to make, but by ending the circus tours, we will be able to concentrate on the other lines of business within the Feld Entertainment portfolio,” added Juliette Feld, Feld Entertainment’s chief operating officer (and one of Ken Feld's three sisters involved in the company).
“Now that we have made this decision, as a company, and as a family, we will strive to support our circus performers and crew in making the transition to new opportunities,” she added.
Feld Entertainment will continue to present Marvel Universe LIVE!, Monster Jam, Monster Energy Supercross and Disney On Ice, among other live sports and entertainment shows. The Florida elephant sanctuary the company created years ago will also continue to operate.
News of the end of the circus was welcomed by animal rights groups.
“Ringling Bros. has changed a great deal over a century and a half, but not fast enough,” Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society, 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.”
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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the group that was most active in protesting outside of shows inside the Honda Center, issued a statement that demands that others follow Feld's lead.
“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,” PETA said.
“After decades of exposing the suffering of animals in circuses behind the scenes, we are pleased to hear that Ringlings has finally bowed to public opinion–it was a mistake for them not to see the trend away from animal shows to human-only performances over a decade ago," said Jan Creamer, Animal Defenders International's president, in a statement. "Circuses can survive without the animal performances.”
Creamer credits her organization's campaigns over the years with helping to convince 34 nations, 27 U.S. states and 66 jurisdictions to either ban or restrict the use of wild animals in traveling shows. ADI also supports legislation introduced in Congress last November to end wild animal use.