The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is folding up its tent, ending nearly a century and a half of performing the Greatest Show on Earth.
A combination of declining attendance, increasing operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups caused the downfall of the American icon.
Circus employees were told Saturday night after shows in Orlando and Miami.
“After much evaluation and deliberation, my family and I have made the difficult business decision that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will hold its final performances in May of this year, according to a statement from Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, which produces the circus.
Feld added that ticket sales dropped dramatically after the circus retired elephants from its shows last May after a 14-year fight with animal rights activists over allegations that circus employees mistreated the elephants.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), one of the circus’ most vocal critics, took credit for the demise.
“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, wrote in a statement.
Ringling’s two traveling shows have 30 remaining scheduled appearances. The final shows are May 7 in Providence, R.I. and May 21 in Uniondale, N.Y.
The announcement puts most of the shows’ 500 or so employees out of a job, the Associated Press reported. Feld said some would be transferred to the company’s other shows like Monster Jam, Disney on Ice and Marvel Live! The company will help with job placement, resumes and, in some cases, housing relocation.
Ringling’s 40 retired elephants are living at the Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk County, which the company will continue to operate. Homes will be found for the other animals, which include lions, tigers, camels, donkeys, alpacas, kangaroos and llamas.