Ringling Bros. Says Circus Closing 'Not a Win' for Animal Rights Groups

PHOTO: An elephant from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus eats hay during the Behind-the-Scenes Experience, as part of the introduction of their Circus XTREME show at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida Jan. 13, 2016. PlayCRISTOBAL HERRERA/EPA
WATCH Ringling Bros. Circus Downplays Effectiveness of Animal Rights Groups in Forcing Closure

The owners of the famed Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus today pushed back against the idea that animal rights protests influenced the company's decision to end its circus performances in May of this year.

The family-run Feld Entertainment company that owns the 146-year-old circus billed as "the greatest show on Earth" said at a press conference today in Florida that animal rights groups should not claim the circus' closing as a victory.

"This is not a win for animal rights activists," Kenneth Feld, the company's CEO said. "This is not a win for anyone."

"Entertainment has changed," Feld said of the reason for the closing. "The traditional family unit is different."

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has been a frequent target of activists claiming inhumane treatment of animals used in the shows.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the animal rights group that was among the loudest opponents of the circus, claimed a win this weekend in a press release titled, "It's over for Ringling Bros. Circus."

PHOTO: Elephants perform during Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus Circus Extreme show at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, April 30, 2016. Andrew Kelly/Reuters
Elephants perform during Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus' "Circus Extreme" show at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, April 30, 2016.

"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.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, also applauded the decision, saying, "I applaud their decision to move away from an institution grounded on inherently inhumane wild animal acts."

Feld for his part said at the press conference that with the circus' closing, animal rights groups “will need to find a new agenda for fundraising.”

His daughter, Juliette Feld, said the company saw a decline in sales over many years and a more precipitous drop after it announced in 2016 it would stop including elephant acts in performances.

The circus, typically composed of exotic animals, bright costumes and death-defying acrobats, dates back in the U.S. to the 19th century when Phineas Taylor Barnum made a traveling spectacle of animals and human oddities while the five Ringling brothers performed juggling acts and skits from their home base in Wisconsin, according to The Associated Press. Eventually, the acts merged and the modern circus was born, the AP noted.

The Felds said their focus now is on more than 400 workers who will be affected by the shutdown and that the company will provide "job placement, interview and resume preparation."

The company also said it will work to ensure that animals used for the circus are placed in safe homes after the final performance.

"Our commitment to all of our animals is for our lifetime," Juliette Feld said.

Feld Entertainment was founded nearly 50 years ago with the acquisition of Ringling Bros, according to a company statement. Kenneth Feld has a net worth of roughly $2.7 billion dollars from the circus and entertainment business, according to the Forbes 400 list.

The circus will have its final performance on Long Island at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., on May 21.

The Felds expressed hope that people would visit the circus one last time.

"There are tickets available for the remaining shows," Kenneth Feld said.