The greatest show on earth for causing harm to animals is finally about to shutter its doors. Many factors were blamed including rising operating costs and the recent ADHD-like attention span of people hooked on smartphones, social media and computer games. But those organizations and individuals committed to public education about harm to animals know they made some of the biggest impacts, primarily (1) increasing public awareness about the scientific findings that these animals are intelligent, sentient beings–yes, they feel pain and yes, they suffer; (2) increasing public awareness of the common and often cruel practices by this circus in training and keeping these wild creatures in line; (3) working to outlaw cruel practices to animals (such as the use of bull-hooks on elephants) in city ordinances across the country; (4) working to remove animals who had suffered for years from the circus and place them in an animal sanctuary; and of course (5) relentless lawsuits against the circus for harming wild creatures.
As we watched these efforts unfold over the past two decades (and took part in organizing and attending demonstrations outside the circus, handing out information to educate entering customers) it was heartwarming to see the general public start to come around and eventually to take up the baton themselves, educating one another about the cruelty that went on behind the scenes of this circus franchise. Still, it seems almost surreal that it will finally be ending–and we are as proud as can be with the U.S. populace that developed a higher level awareness about the practices of this circus and came to understand that it was no more appropriate to be entertained by animals that endured daily cruelty than it was by humans with horrific deformities and birth defects.
The circus closure is a significant symbol that the U.S. culture is evolving and that they have turned another page on their moral development calendar. Ladies and gentlemen…The greatest show on earth is your growing awareness and compassion for the creatures you share the planet with.
After 146 years, the curtain is coming down on “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus told The Associated Press that the show will close forever in May.
The iconic American spectacle was felled by a variety of factors, company executives say. Declining attendance combined with high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups all contributed to its demise…
Ringling has been targeted by activists who say forcing animals to perform is cruel and unnecessary.
In May of 2016, after a long and costly legal battle, the company removed the elephants from the shows and sent the animals to live on a conservation farm in Central Florida. The animals had been the symbol of the circus since Barnum brought an Asian elephant named Jumbo to America in 1882. In 2014, Feld Entertainment won $25.2 million in settlements from groups including the Humane Society of the United States, ending a 14-year fight over allegations that circus employees mistreated elephants.
By the time the elephants were removed, public opinion had shifted somewhat. Los Angeles prohibited the use of bull-hooks by elephant trainers and handlers, as did Oakland, California. The city of Asheville, North Carolina nixed wild or exotic animals from performing in the municipally owned, 7,600-seat U.S. Cellular Center.
As The Washington Post’s Elahe Izadi reported in 2015, the death in 1998 of Kenny, a 3-year-old Asian elephant with the Ringling Bros., ultimately led to complaints about and greater attention to the treatment of the circus’s elephants:
He sat out a third show that day but was led into the arena to watch. Kenny died overnight in his stall.
His death triggered a series of events: A whistleblower tipped off People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the group said, and it contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency eventually brought a complaint that charged the circus with failing to handle Kenny in a way that “did not cause behavioral stress and unnecessary discomfort” and said that handlers made the young elephant perform even after discovering he was sick and needed to be seen by a veterinarian. Eventually, the USDA dropped the complaint and the circus’s parent company agreed to donate $20,000 to Asian elephant organizations.