Ringling Bros. circus folding its tent after nearly 150 years

Jan 14 (Reuters) - The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus said on Saturday it will cease performances after 146 years in business, owing to what it said were declining tickets sales and high operating costs.

"After much evaluation and deliberation, my family and I have made the difficult business decision that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will hold its final performances in May," Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, the Florida-based producer of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, said on the circus' web site.

In May of last year, the circus retired its elephant act, years after a suit by activists. It admitted no wrongdoing, but agreed to a six-figure fine several years before ending the elephant performances.

In his statement on Saturday, Feld noted that declining sales had fallen off even more dramatically following what he called "the transition of the elephants off the road."

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Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey elephants
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Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey elephants
Senior Elephant Handler Alex Petrov interacts with the elephants after they appeared in their final show for the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., May 1, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Performing elephants wait to appear in their final show for the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., May 1, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
A clown embraces Senior Elephant Handler Alex Petrov ahead of the performing elephants' final show for the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., May 1, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Elephants perform during Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus' "Circus Extreme" show at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 30, 2016. To match Feature USA-CIRCUS/ELEPHANTS REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Elephants perform during Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus' "Circus Extreme" show at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 30, 2016. To match Feature USA-CIRCUS/ELEPHANTS REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Performing elephants walk toward the arena at Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus' "Circus Extreme" show at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 30, 2016. To match Feature USA-CIRCUS/ELEPHANTS REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Sixth generation circus performer Tabayara Maluenda waves after riding a performing elephant in Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus' "Circus Extreme" show at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 30, 2016. To match Feature USA-CIRCUS/ELEPHANTS REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
A performing elephant waits in its pen in preparation ahead of its activities and performances for the day at Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus' "Circus Extreme" show at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 30, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Kelly Ann, an elephant from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, is petted by children during a promotional event linked to the Brazil 2014 World Cup, in Los Angeles, California July 9, 2014. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo
Senior Elephant Handler Ryan Henning presents the elephant act in Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus' "Circus Extreme" show at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 30, 2016. To match Feature USA-CIRCUS/ELEPHANTS REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 13: General view of elephants and atmosphere at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey's 'Circus XTREME' VIP celebrity red carpet premiere at Staples Center on July 13, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by David A. Walega/FilmMagic)
A circus performer hangs upside down during a Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performance in Washington, DC on March 19, 2015. Across America through the decades, children of all ages delighted in the arrival of the circus, with its retinue of clowns, acrobats and, most especially, elephants. But, bowing to criticism from animal rights groups, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced on March 5, 2015, it will phase out use of their emblematic Indian stars. AFP PHOTO/ ANDREW CABALLERO-REYNOLDS (Photo credit should read Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)
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Animal rights group PETA said it "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."

PETA President Ingrid Newkirk also said in its statement that 36 years of PETA protests had "awoken the world to the plight of animals in captivity."

Activists often appeared outside venues with fliers, protesting against the use of elephants, and pictures of animals they said were abused.

After Feld Entertainment sued, claiming malicious prosecution, more than a dozen animal welfare groups agreed in 2012 and 2014 to pay settlements totaling about $25 million to end 14 years of litigation.

The circus went by the slogan "The greatest show on earth," a catchphrase that was so ubiquitous it was employed for the title of the 1952 Cecil B. DeMille best picture Oscar-winning film starring Charlton Heston and Betty Hutton.

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History of Ringling Bros. circus
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History of Ringling Bros. circus
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The circus will end it long run with performances in Providence, R.I., on May 7, 2017, and in Uniondale, N.Y., on May 21. Other Feld productions, including Marvel Universe LIVE!, Monster Jam, Monster Energy Supercross, AMSOIL Arenacross, Disney On Ice and Disney Live!, will continue, and the company said it will continue to develop new shows.

Employees were told of the decision to close down following performances on Saturday in Florida.

(Reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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