Final curtain for Ringling Bros circus show after 146 years

Elephants at a show in Pennsylvania last April. Company executives cited high operating costs and declining ticket sales after the elephants were retired as reasons for closing.
Elephants at a show in Pennsylvania last April. Company executives cited high operating costs and declining ticket sales after the elephants were retired as reasons for closing.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus has announced it will host its final show in May, ending "The Greatest Show on Earth" after 146 years.

Company executives on Saturday cited high operating costs and declining ticket sales after the travelling American circus retired its popular elephants as reasons for drawing the curtain on a celebrated spectacle that traces its origins to politician and showman P.T. Barnum's first show in 1871.

Mr Kenneth Feld, chairman and chief executive of show producer Feld Entertainment, said he and his family came to the "difficult" decision to end the circus "after much evaluation and deliberation".

"Nearly 50 years ago, my father founded our company with the acquisition of Ringling Bros," he said in a statement on the group's website."

"The circus and its people have continually been a source of inspiration and joy to my family and me, which is why this was such a tough business decision to make."

The group has a total of 30 stops scheduled on its 2017 tour.

Although Barnum's first show took place decades before, it was not until 1919 that a group started by five Wisconsin brothers, Ringling Bros World's Greatest Shows, merged with Barnum & Bailey's Greatest Show on Earth.

While the Ringling brothers had been better known for traditional circus fare, Barnum was dubbed the "Prince of Humbugs", known as a shameless promoter of incredible hoaxes, freak shows and zoological curiosities.

One such object was the Fiji mermaid, or Feejee mermaid, which was in fact no less than the head and torso of a monkey sewn to the body and tail of a fish.

Barnum launched his travelling circus after fires destroyed his Barnum's American Museum. Two whales were boiled alive in their tanks during one of the fires.

In 1881, Barnum teamed up with James Bailey to run their "Greatest Show on Earth", making a fortune along the way.

Animal rights groups cheered the current move as a success story following decades of activism against the use of animals in the circus.

"A major moment as big brands that harm animals fade away and more humane businesses emerge. I applaud @RinglingBros announcement," Mr Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, tweeted.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2017, with the headline 'Final curtain for Ringling Bros circus show after 146 years'. Print Edition | Subscribe