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After 146 Years 'The Greatest Show On Earth' Will Come To A Close


In the next few minutes, we bring you word of the end of what were once must-see attractions for many people. We'll start with the greatest show on Earth. After 146 years, Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus have announced their final shows. NPR's Merrit Kennedy reports it's a response to changing tastes in entertainment and years of attacks by animal rights groups.

MERRIT KENNEDY, BYLINE: It was a big deal when the circus came into town. It's been a mainstay of U.S. entertainment for decades enthralling audiences with flashy shows featuring acrobats, clowns and wild animals. Early last century, the Ringling Brothers Circus, known for masterful juggling, merged with its biggest competitor Barnum and Bailey which specialized in wild animal performances. Together, they formed one circus which they dubbed the greatest show on Earth.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: It's been through World Wars, it's been through every kind of economic cycle, and it's been through a lot of change.

KENNEDY: The spectacle is coming to an end in May. The circus parent company's chairman and CEO Kenneth Feld has announced. It has seen declining ticket sales for years combined with the major expense of touring some 400 cast and crew around the country on two mile-long trains. And, recently, they've been putting on shows without some of their biggest performers. After growing criticism from animal rights groups, chief operating officer Juliette Feld tells the Associated Press of the company's 2015 decision to stop featuring elephants in shows has especially hurt numbers.


JULIETTE FELD: Removing the elephants from the touring units, we saw a very sharp drop in attendance, much greater than we anticipated.

KENNEDY: That decision came after years of pressure and legal action from those animal rights groups which has only increased, says Nicole Paquette, the Humane Society's vice president for wildlife protection.

NICOLE PAQUETTE: Really seen a shift in the passage of laws, and there are now over a hundred and twenty cities and counties that have banned either cruel training devices or specific animals in circuses.

KENNEDY: Paquette calls this a watershed moment for the animal welfare community. The circus suffered from another problem - holding kids' attention against the multiplying forms of entertainment. Ringling Brothers has tried using new technology in its shows and ramping up its social media presence. But Stephen Payne, the company's vice president of corporate communications says it wasn't enough.

STEPHEN PAYNE: Really it's such a more hyper-competitive market for entertainment. We just weren't able to find a particular mix that was successful in bringing audiences back.

KENNEDY: The show isn't over quite yet. Ringling Brothers will continue touring for the next four months until the final performance set to take place in Long Island in May. Merrit Kennedy, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
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