By Deirdre Fulton / Common Dreams

    Critics say circus animals are confined in small spaces, deprived of physical and social needs and forced to spend excessive time tied or chained up. (hpb_pix/flickr/cc)

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced Saturday night that it would hold its final performance in May, a victory for animal rights activists who have battled the show for decades. 

A message from Kenneth Feld, president of the Ringling parent company Feld Entertainment, said that “Ringling Bros. ticket sales have been declining, but following the transition of the elephants off the road, we saw an even more dramatic drop. This, coupled with high operating costs, made the circus an unsustainable business for the company.” 

The company said in March 2015 that it would retire its elephants by 2018. Other performing animals, such as tigers, lions, horses, dogs, and camels, remained in the show. 

Animal rights groups cheered Saturday’s announcement, attributing it to shifting public opinion after a long awareness campaign showing traveling circuses cannot meet the needs of wild animals. 

“After decades of exposing the suffering of animals in circuses behind the scenes, we are pleased to hear that Ringling has finally bowed to public opinion—it was a mistake for them not to see the trend away from animal shows to human-only performances over a decade ago,” said Jan Creamer, president of Animal Defenders International. 

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) similarly chastised the company for not seeing the writing on the wall sooner. “Ringling Bros. has changed a great deal over a century and a half, but not fast enough,” said Wayne Pacelle, HSUS president and CEO. “It’s just not acceptable any longer to cart wild animals from city to city and have them perform silly yet coercive stunts. I know this is bittersweet for the Feld family, but I applaud their decision to move away from an institution grounded on inherently inhumane wild animal acts.”

PETA said it “heralds the end [of the circus] and asks all other animal circuses to follow suit, as this is a sign of changing times.”

Indeed, the grassroots network Direct Action Everywhere, which has protested circuses and other exploitative industries in the past, called the decision “a sign that any industry—including farms, labs, and circuses—that commits violence against animals is destined to fail. Polls show that the vast majority of Americans believe animals should be protected from all suffering and increasingly believe that animals should be granted equal rights under the law to be free from harm. We celebrate tonight’s victory and look forward to seeing animal agriculture and other industries that torture and kill animals go the way of the circus.”

Deirdre Fulton is a staff writer at Common Dreams.

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