An American institution, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus says it is shutting down in May, closing what it has promoted as "The Greatest Show on Earth" after 146 years.
Executives at Feld Entertainment, the owner of the traveling road show watched by millions of Americans through the decades, said the circus is closing for a variety of reasons, declining ticket sales after the circus ended its popular display of elephants, changing entertainment tastes, high operating costs and prolonged battles with animal rights groups over using animals in the show.
Company chairman and chief executive Kenneth Feld said, "This has been a very difficult decision for me and for the entire family."
30 shows left
Ringling Bros. has two touring circuses and will perform 30 shows in major cities before ending its operations on May 21.
Through much of the 20th century, a visit to a Ringling Bros. show was a staple of wholesome family entertainment, with its exotic animals, flashy costumes and high-flying acrobats enthralling large crowds as the circus made an annual stop in cities across the U.S.
But that changed in the past two decades, Feld said, as American youth became more interested in movies, television, internet games and cell phone texting with friends. The circus did not hold as much interest for many.
"The competitor in many ways is time," he said. "It's a different model that we can't see how it works in today's world to justify and maintain an affordable ticket price. So you've got all these things working against it."
End of elephant act
Ringling Bros. has been the target of extended protests for its use of animals in its show, with animal rights groups contending that forcing them to perform is cruel and unnecessary.
The circus ended its use of elephants eight months ago, with chief operating officer Juliette Feld saying there was a "dramatic drop" in ticket sales after retiring the elephants to a conservation farm in Florida.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals claimed victory for the imminent demise of Ringling Bros., saying it "heralds the end of what has been the saddest show on earth for wild animals." The Humane Society of the United States applauded "their decision to move away from an institution grounded on inherently inhumane wild animal acts."