Lights Out for the 'Greatest Show on Earth'

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January 16, 2017

The curtains will soon close on the "Greatest Show on Earth."

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus have announced that it will close up shop in May, ending 146 years of circus entertainment. Faced with drops in ticket sales and increases in both operating costs and negative publicity, Feld Entertainment CEO Kenneth Feld made the decision to end the circus's run permanently.

After May, about 500 circus workers will be out of a job. The company informed its employees after shows in Miami and Orlando.

The announcement came just a few days after the debut of the first female ringmaster, as Kristen Michelle Wilson took the reins in Orlando.

Feld's father, Irvin, bought the circus in 1967. His company, Feld Entertainment, has run the circus since then, with a brief ownership interlude by the toymaker Mattel from 1971 to 1982.

For many years, groups like the Humane Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have said that circus workers mistreated animal performers, elephants in particular. The circus created an elephant conservation center in Florida in 1995.

In 2011, Feld Entertainment paid a $270,000 fine in connection with allegations of violating the Animal Welfare Act. On the flip side, the company in 2014 won a multi-million-dollar settlement against the Human Society and other groups. Two years later, the circus removed elephants from the shows.

Other animals still fill the lineups, however, including alpacas, camels, donkeys, kangaroos, lions, llamas, and tigers.

The circus company will offer 30 shows across the U.S. in the next few months. The final shows will be on May 7 in Providence, R.I., and in Uniondale, N.Y., on May 21.

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