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“The Greatest Show on Earth” Is Closing After 146 Years

“It is the only spectacle I know, that, while you watch it, gives the quality of a truly happy dream.”—Ernest Hemingway

Elephants Performing at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus

Elephants Performing at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus
By Amy n Rob (originally posted to Flickr as Circus 1 (183)) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

In a couple of weeks, “The Greatest Show on Earth” will cease to exist. After 146 years, the iconic Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will deliver its final performance on May 21 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. The circus, with its acrobats, clowns, and animal acts, has been a staple of American entertainment for over a century. Once lauded as wholesome family fun, the show has become increasingly controversial in recent years. The circus has been targeted for decades by animal rights activists, who say that forcing animals to perform for human entertainment is cruel and inhumane.

In January, Kenneth Feld, chairman, and CEO of Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling Bros., told The Associated Press that high operating costs combined with declining attendance, changing tastes, and lengthy battles with animal rights organizations, all contributed to the American spectacle’s demise. Feld Entertainment spent years fighting allegations of elephant mistreatment. Despite never losing in court, and winning $25 million in settlements from animal rights groups, the company lost in the court of public opinion. Pressure from animal rights groups and shifting public attitudes toward the use of captive wild animals for entertainment purposes forced Ringling Bros. to end its practice of using performing elephants in May of 2016. The retired circus elephants were sent to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida. Ticket sales plummeted following the removal of the elephants from the show.

The company’s decision to close the circus has been hailed as a major victory by animal rights groups. “After 36 years of PETA protests, which have awoken the world to the plight of animals in captivity, PETA heralds the end of what has been the saddest show on earth for wild animals, and asks all other animal circuses to follow suit, as this is a sign of changing times,” Ingrid Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a longtime critic of the circus, wrote in a statement.

But not everyone is happy to see the circus come to an end. About 400 circus employees will soon be out of a job. “It’s traumatic!” said ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson, expressing his sadness. “For artists and crew alike, it’s bearing witness to the death of the penultimate icon of our industry. This decision has international ramifications. Artists, the world over, work their entire lives to get to the Greatest Show On Earth.”

What do your students think about the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus shutting down? Do they support or oppose the use of animals for entertainment? Do they think using animals for entertainment constitutes cruelty? They can learn more about both sides of the debate in our Animal Cruelty Leading Issue.

SIRS Leading Issue: Animal Welfare

SIRS Leading Issue: Animal Welfare by ProQuest LLC via ProQuest SIRS Issue Researcher

Let us know your thoughts about the closing of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Comment below or tweet us using #ProQuest.

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