BY JENNA MANTO
After 146 years of shows featuring elephants, Bengal tigers, acrobats and more, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will perform shows in Tampa one final time on Jan. 25-29 at the Amalie Arena.
Despite being scrutinized by many animal rights activists over the years, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment as well as producer of Ringling Bros. Circus, Kenneth Feld, released in a statement saying that the closing of the show was due in part by declining ticket sales, especially after phasing out elephants in their shows, as well as the high cost of operating their circus.
Many animal rights activists groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Florida Voices for Animals (FVA), see the closing of this widely-known circus as a major victory in a long battle against supposed animal cruelty within the circus. FVA will be partnering with One Protest, a non-profit animal advocacy organization, during the times of the Ringling Bros. Circus shows in Tampa to protest circuses and their alleged abuse of animals.
“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,” said Ingrid Newkirk, the President of PETA, in a statement released by their Media Liaison, Catie Cryar.
Cryar also restated that part of PETA’s motto says, “animals are not ours to use for entertainment.”
Senior marine science and biology major Alana Boyles, founder and president of the Roots and Shoots club at UT, says that this is a huge step for circuses as animals are not meant to be paraded around, rather they belong in the wild.
“Hopefully it encourages other circuses to follow suit,” Boyles said.
Although Boyles is against including animals in circus acts, she is for circuses solely using human acts to showcase their talents – something she would be interested in seeing herself.
Cryar also gave a statement that mentioned supporting animal-free circuses such as the Cirque Du Soleil.
“Businesses that cling to this archaic model are doomed, while animal-free circuses such as Cirque du Soleil have experienced skyrocketing popularity,” Cryar said. “Ringling Bros. circus could have ditched the animal acts—as so many Shrine circuses have done—but instead, it allowed its attendance to dwindle and its tickets to lag, while protests were held outside every show, until it finally had to shut down.”
Despite these claims, Ringling Bros. Circus performers assure the public that their animals are given the best possible care.
“I think they should research what they protest. The animals here are given the best care, round the clock,” said Nicole Sanders, a human cannonball performer who has been with the Circus for a little over a year, in an email. Sanders has local connections to the Tampa area as her father lives in Clearwater.
Sanders continued to describe the circus as an “all-encompassing art form” with passionate circus performers, especially when it comes to putting on a show for the public.
“It is this passion that drives us, this sense of community and love for what we do,” Sanders said. “It is clearly evident in our performances. We give it all to the people. I urge the public: support circus, support the arts. We don’t want shows to keep disappearing- when there is a demand, I know it will be met by creative, talented artists who are ready to shine.”
To many employees of the Ringling Bros. Circus, the closing is crushing as they will be losing their jobs, but also for the public as many have long since enjoyed these shows, Sanders said.
“It is devastating news. I would also remind them that the closing of the circus is a devastating loss for hundreds of human employees,” Sanders said. “The circus is home to many and is their entire livelihood. Many children grew up here and some people have worked here for over 30 years.”
PETA’s response to the loss of jobs by many employees cited, “Feld Entertainment’s lack of vision and unwillingness to change with the times and public taste.”
Jenna Manto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org