Ringling Bros. Circus About To Shut Down After Activists Got Elephants Removed From Show

Amid plummeting ticket sales and calls to end animal abuse, the 146-year-old circus will close its doors this month.

Elephant Poster

Boston Public LibraryPoster for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, circa 1920.

This month, the “Greatest Show On Earth” will shut its doors. Following through on an announcement first made in January, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will close down after May 21.

Although the show went on for 146 years, ticket sales have now fallen considerably, forcing Ringling Bros. out of business.

This decline in ticket sales grew far worse after protests from animal rights groups caused the circus to retire its last performing elephants in 2016. “When we made the decisions to take the elephants off the road, in May of 2016, we saw a drop in ticket sales and attendance way beyond what we anticipated,” said Kenneth Feld, CEO of Feld Entertainment, the circus’ parent company.

In recent years, groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States led efforts including petitions and lawsuits to ensure better treatment of the circus’ animals.

“It’s just not acceptable any longer to cart wild animals from city to city and have them perform silly yet coercive stunts,” said Humane Society President Wayne Pacelle when Ringling Bros. first announced their shutdown.

Although sentiments like these clearly helped put the final nail in the coffin for Ringling Bros., Feld also states that the high operating costs of bringing the entertainment to the people just isn’t feasible — particularly in an era when people are used to having entertainment right at the fingertips.

As Ringling Bros. Ringmaster Jonathan Lee Iverson said:

“More and more, unfortunately, we’re becoming a society that really doesn’t embrace wonder anymore. The wonder that we offer, you can’t find it on Facebook, you can’t find it on YouTube. You have to engage, you have to be there, you have to be present, and it takes relating to others not like yourself.”

Whether or not Iverson’s analysis rings true, the outcry over animal abuse proved too great to keep the circus in business. Now, Feld is reportedly working to relocate those animals that served the circus for so many years and ultimately brought it down.


Next, read the tragic tale of “Murderous Mary,” a circus elephant hanged by a Tennessee town. Then, read up on “Lobster Boy,” the circus act turned murderer.

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