1882 marked the beginning of a 146 year long legacy when five Ringling brothers had their start performing in the town halls of W.I. In the years following, they titled themselves the “Ringling Bros. United Monster Shows, Great Double Circus, Royal European Menagerie, Museum, Caravan and Congress of Trained Animals.”
The Ringling Bros. circus has been famous for its animal performances and extravagant demonstrations of dance and gymnastics through its storylines and characters. Since the decline in its popularity, the circus announced its final circus performance on May 21 at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in N.Y.
On the official Ringling Bros. Circus website, the owner posted a message explaining the circus’s closing in May, stating that low attendance and the high costs of maintenance because of the steadily decreasing ticket sales have made it difficult for the circus to continue its business and travel.
In May 2016, the infamous elephants of the Ringling Bros. performed in their last show before being sent to a Florida conservation center. This action was prompted by several complaints of animal abuse; over the last decade several animal rights groups, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have advocated against the treatment of the circus’ animals. There have been many cases of elephant babies being separated from their mothers in restraints, forced into cramped boxcars and trained through the use of bullhooks, ropes and electric prods. Numerous videos of trainers using bullhooks to punish the animals for their mistakes have circulated on the internet, further staining the company’s reputation.
“The circus is at fault for the treatment of these animals; over the years many rules have been established to protect animals against these abuses. The circus managers should have kept up with these regulations instead of continuing to uphold the standards of the past,” Junior Aarushi Karandikar said.
The company was pressured to resolve these issues, leading to the dismissal of the elephants; however, other animals such as the tigers, lions, dogs and camels remained. Other reports of abuse include instances where the tigers were forced into small cages and left to lie on overheated concrete when traveling on the road. These documentations of animal abuse led to the closing of the circus as well. The loss of the elephants led to an even greater decline in ticket sales and coupled with the loss of resulting income, the end of the Ringling Bros. circus became inevitable.
Though some supporters of the circus are disappointed at the end of the Ringling Bros. era, animal rights groups who have been fighting against the company for years are celebrating. Pamela Anderson, actress and animal rights activist tweeted a victory message against the Ringling Bros. circus to her 1.07 million followers—“It’s over.”
Some of the most famous and popular of the world’s circuses today, such as Cirque Du Soleil, have more human performers, focusing on acrobatics and dexterity than animals for their acts. Moving away from animal acts and incorporating more human acts into shows might be a trend that circuses should follow to ensure a steady stream of future circusgoers and a brighter future.