Elephants exit stage right as top comes down on ‘Greatest Show on Earth’


ATLANTA – After 146 years, The Ringling Brother’s Circus is passing into American history, with plans to perform their last show in May of 2017.

The circus began in the mid-1800s when Phineas Barnum trained animals to do spectacular tricks, and the five Ringling brothers performed skits filled with death-defying acts.  The two eventually combined to create the modern-day circus.

People from all over America traveled to see the oddities that the “Greatest Show on Earth” held. However, as the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end.”

circus 12017 performance of Barnum and Bailey’s circus. (Submitted Photo)

A variety of reasons contribute to the decision to end the show, though high-operating costs paired with declining attendance rates play a small role in the decision.

According to the Associated Press, Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, which owns The Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey circus said “it has been a very difficult decision for me and for the entire family.”

One of the biggest reasons for the show ending is due to the costly, drawn-out battle with animal rights activists.

For years, the circus has been battling with activists that say forcing animals to perform is unnecessary and cruel.  The activists eventually won the fight in 2016 when all of the elephants from the circus were sent to live on a conservation farm in Florida.

“When we lost the elephants, we lost the show,” said Juliette Feld, the company’s chief operating officer.

Animals were a staple of the show, starting when Barnum brought an elephant named Jumbo to America in the 1800s.  Elephants soon became an immediate spectacle, weighing in at around 10,000 pounds each, yet having the capability to do handstands, or balance on a ball.

Research shows that ticket sales dropped by nearly 30 percent after the elephants were eliminated from the show in May of 2016.

circus 2Elephants performing one of their many tricks for the circus. (Submitted Photo)

The endangered Asian elephants were retired into one of the most prestigious research and care-taking facilities for elephants in the world.

The Feld Company owns the 200-acre conservation center in central Florida that the retired elephants now inhabit.  All 42 of the circus elephants now reside in the Center for Elephant Conservation, or CEC, where professionals care for them around the clock.

The main goal of the staff at the CEC is to protect and research the Asian elephants. With the arrival of the final load of circus elephants, the CEC now boasts the largest elephant herd in the Western hemisphere, with over 50 adults and 21 babies, all born at the conservation center.

There may be sadness for many as they look back and reminisce on the days of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey’s circus, they can, at least, take heart in the fact they got to experience it at all.  Many will never experience the magic of seeing the acrobats do flips on tight ropes nearly 40 feet in the air, or watching elephants gallivant the ring bowing to the crowds after the completion of a show.

The circus ran for 146 years, “a year older than baseball” Kenneth Feld likes to brag, and it brought joy to people all over America. Now, after nearly a century and a half of entertainment, the curtain is finally closing on “The Greatest Show on Earth.”







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