Ringling Bros. Circus prepares for final bow of 'Greatest Show on Earth'

NEW YORK — After nearly 150 years, the show will not go on for the iconic Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which is performing its final act on Sunday.

Throughout its 146 year history, the massive, traveling circus elated crowds from small towns to big cities across America with its exotic animals, mile-long trains and death-defying feats — but not without courting its fair share of controversy.

As Ringling Bros. prepares to take its final bow before a sold-out crowd at Nassau Coliseum in the suburbs of New York City, circus performers and enthusiasts lamented the shutting down of "The Greatest Show on Earth." Yet animal rights activists who have sparred with Ringling for years said the end could not come soon enough.

48 PHOTOS
A look back at 'The Greatest Show on Earth' -- Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus
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A look back at 'The Greatest Show on Earth' -- Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus
Davis Vassallo prepares for a showing of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Eagle Bank Arena April 14, 2017 in Fairfax, Virginia. With competition from new age technology and fierce opposition from animal rights groups, the historic Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which began in 1871, will be closing for good on May 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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 vendor carries crushed ice during a showing of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Eagle Bank Arena April 14, 2017 in Fairfax, Virginia. With competition from new age technology and fierce opposition from animal rights groups, the historic Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which began in 1871, will be closing for good on May 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Circus clowns watch on as the performing elephants are prepared for the matinee on their final day of performing elephants in the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., May 1, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
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
A circus clown cries as she watches the performing elephants prepare for their final show for the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., May 1, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Circus performer Tabayara Maluenda leads out the elephants after they appear in the introduction for their final show for the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., May 1, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Joe DeSoto, a clown, applies powder to makeup between shows of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Eagle Bank Arena April 14, 2017 in Fairfax, Virginia. With competition from new age technology and fierce opposition from animal rights groups, the historic Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which began in 1871, will be closing for good on May 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Joe DeSoto, a clown, applies makeup between shows of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Eagle Bank Arena April 14, 2017 in Fairfax, Virginia. With competition from new age technology and fierce opposition from animal rights groups, the historic Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which began in 1871, will be closing for good on May 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey combined circus puts on a five ring show at the Coliseum in the Bronx in New York City, 1929. (Photo by Underwood Archives/Getty Images)
Circus performer Hanna Fatieiva poses with the performing elephants 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
Rhett Coates (R) smiles as Timothy Mack juggles between shows of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Eagle Bank Arena April 14, 2017 in Fairfax, Virginia. With competition from new age technology and fierce opposition from animal rights groups, the historic Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which began in 1871, will be closing for good on May 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Davis Vassallo (L) speaks with his daughter Adriana Vassallo (R) before performing in the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Eagle Bank Arena April 14, 2017 in Fairfax, Virginia. With competition from new age technology and fierce opposition from animal rights groups, the historic Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which began in 1871, will be closing for good on May 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Mariya Klose walks with dogs after performing in the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Eagle Bank Arena April 14, 2017 in Fairfax, Virginia. With competition from new age technology and fierce opposition from animal rights groups, the historic Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which began in 1871, will be closing for good on May 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Alexander Lacey performs with big cats during a showing of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Eagle Bank Arena April 14, 2017 in Fairfax, Virginia. With competition from new age technology and fierce opposition from animal rights groups, the historic Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which began in 1871, will be closing for good on May 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Hans Klose (L) and Mariya Klose have a dog jump rope during a pre-show at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Eagle Bank Arena April 14, 2017 in Fairfax, Virginia. With competition from new age technology and fierce opposition from animal rights groups, the historic Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which began in 1871, will be closing for good on May 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Talgat Zakir Uulu, a member of the Cossack Riders, holds his son Shabdan Uulu in one hand while relaxing outside between showing of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus on April 14, 2017 in Fairfax, Virginia. With competition from new age technology and fierce opposition from animal rights groups, the historic Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which began in 1871, will be closing for good on May 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the Heilongjiang Provincial Acrobatic Troupe practice while resting outside after a showing of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Eagle Bank Arena April 14, 2017 in Fairfax, Virginia. With competition from new age technology and fierce opposition from animal rights groups, the historic Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which began in 1871, will be closing for good on May 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
The performing elephants exit the arena during the matinee on their final day of shows in the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., May 1, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
A clown ties his laces backstage before the matinee on the final day of shows for the performing elephants at Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., May 1, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
A woman emjoys shaved ice during a showing of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Eagle Bank Arena April 14, 2017 in Fairfax, Virginia. With competition from new age technology and fierce opposition from animal rights groups, the historic Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which began in 1871, will be closing for good on May 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A clown waits to perform during a showing of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Eagle Bank Arena April 14, 2017 in Fairfax, Virginia. With competition from new age technology and fierce opposition from animal rights groups, the historic Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which began in 1871, will be closing for good on May 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of the Cossack Riders performs during a showing of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Eagle Bank Arena April 14, 2017 in Fairfax, Virginia. With competition from new age technology and fierce opposition from animal rights groups, the historic Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which began in 1871, will be closing for good on May 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Davis Vassallo (L) holds his daughter Adriana Vassallo's hand as they prepare to perform during a showing of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Eagle Bank Arena April 14, 2017 in Fairfax, Virginia. With competition from new age technology and fierce opposition from animal rights groups, the historic Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which began in 1871, will be closing for good on May 21, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 31: Kenya Branison, 4, L, and Kenyatta Branison, 9, watch a performance by Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus at Verizon Center on Friday, March 31, 2017 in Washington, DC. This performance is one of the circus's last shows as it takes a farewell tour through DC. (photo by Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 02: Fans come out to see one of the final performances of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey as they present 'Out of this World' at Barclays Center on March 2, 2017 in New York City. Ringling Bros. World's Greatest Shows was founded in 1884 before merging with the Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1919 to become Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, a show that would continue for nearly 100 years.The touring shows of Ringling Bros. will be closing at the end of May. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 02: Fans come out to see one of the final performances of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey as they present 'Out of this World' at Barclays Center on March 2, 2017 in New York City. Ringling Bros. World's Greatest Shows was founded in 1884 before merging with the Barnum & Bailey Circus in 1919 to become Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, a show that would continue for nearly 100 years.The touring shows of Ringling Bros. will be closing at the end of May. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
A crowd in front of the main entrance to the Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus. (Photo by Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NON DATE: Num�o du cirque Ringling brothers avec des femmes acrobates et un l�pard, �New York city. (Photo by Keystone-France\Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)
Mary Pickford, a Canadian-American actress, acting for the Henry Street Visiting Nurse Service, sent hundreds of balloons into the sky from the 86th floor of the Empire State Building, with each balloon representing a pair of tickets to the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden, and if a child got ahold of one of the balloons from around the city, it could be exchanged for two tickets, New York, New York, early to mid 20th century. (Photo by Visual Studies Workshop/Getty Images)
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009675.CA.0707.circus7.GF�Tiger trainer Sara Houck ,23, walks with one of her clown friends behind the scenes before the start of the Ringling Bros. circus in Las Vegas. Hauck has been with the circus for eight months and has established a unique relationship with the tigers. (Photo by Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
ME.Clown.Costumed.DB.8/1/97.Anaheim. Four clowns ham it up after clown auditions Friday afternboon at the Arrowhead Pond where The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus is set up. The professionals are, L to R: Lisa Chapman, Thom Wheaton, Aaron Easterbrooks and Max Richardson. (Photo by Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
ME.Clown.kids3.KRH.7/16/97.Eric Zirtzman, 5, (left to right, front)and Joel Cramer (cq), 5, laugh at tricks by Michael O'Neill, the Sears Goodwill Ambassador Clown for Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey circus. O'Neill gave a performance in front of kids at the Anaheim Public Library on Wednesday morning. DIGITAL IMAGE (3of3) (Photo by Kari Rene Hall/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
ME.Walk.Elephant.DB.7/28/97.Anaheim. Getting help from in front and behind, a young Asian elephant makes its way down the ramp from the Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey animal train parked on Douglas Drive near the Anaheim Pond. The performing animals then made the 10�minute walk to the arena for the circus. (Photo by Don Bartletti/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Making their debut this year with RIngling, members of the Gourianov troup perform near the end of the last act in this year's Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey show . The show will finish its run at the LA Sport's Arena soon. (Photo by Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Ringmaster Kevin Venardos, Kelly James Ballagh and David Larible (Photo by Carley Margolis/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK - APRIL 02: Famous clown Bello Nock performs live during Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden on April 02, 2007 in New York City. (Photo by Scott Wintrow/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 04: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clowns visit The Empire State Building on March 4, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Marc Stamas/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 04: The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clowns visit The Empire State Building on March 4, 2011 in New York City. (Photo by Andy Kropa/WireImage)
An elephant participates in an elephant brunch before Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus' "Circus Extreme" show at the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, U.S., April 29, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
An elephant stands in the arena entrance as people perform 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 29, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
A clown performs during the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Bellobration show at Madison Square Garden in New York April 10, 2007. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES)
Tigers in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus sit inside their cage during the Bellobration show at Madison Square Garden in New York April 10, 2007. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (UNITED STATES)
- UNDATED FILE PHOTO - Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus legend Gunther Gebel-Williams, shown in a undated file photo posing with a leopard, died July 19, 2001 at his home in Venice, Florida after a battle with cancer. Gebel-Gunther, 66, had been with Ringling Bros. since 1969 and was vice president of animal welfare for the circus. (Credit : Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus/PR NewsFoto)
- PHOTO TAKEN 13MAY03 - Artists from the Ringling Bros. Circus perform during a dress rehearsal in Mexico City, May 13, 2003. The world famous circus will be performing a season of shows in Mexico City. [Animal rights campaigners have protested against the circus for its use of live animals during their performances.] Picture taken May 13, 2003.
Actor Jerry Lewis (c) poses with a group of clowns from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus after Lewis preformed in the Broadway play "Damn Yankees," April 28 in New York
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Ringling Bros. Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson told NBC News the show was "one of these wonderful dynamic miracles in the annals of time, and that's where it's going."

"It'll be in the memories of many people for years to come," he said, adding, "It doesn't feel good, of course, you know that such a storied institution is at its end, but everything comes to an end."

Ringling is "the grandparent" of the circus art form and many other kinds of modern live entertainment, according to Scott O'Donnell, a former performer with Ringling and now executive director of Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

"The thought of it not being there is sad and bewildering," said O'Donnell. "It'll live on through those in our art form, and it will always be remembered fondly and respectfully for really being sort of the trailblazer — there are not too many brands that have been around for 146 years."

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus' roots trace back to 1871, with showman P.T. Barnum's Grand Traveling American Museum. But the "Greatest Show on Earth" truly began after 1919, when the Barnum & Bailey Circus merged with the separate Ringling Bros. circus, which had been founded in 1884 — in Baraboo.

PHOTOS: Goodbye to the 'Greatest Show on Earth': Ringling Bros. Hold Final Curtain Call

In its prime, Ringling was an "enormous" operation, and its three-ring tent seated 12,000 people and featured two stages, Gary Payne, president of the Circus Fans Association of America, told NBC News.

"Depending on where you sat, you would see a completely different show, it was that enormous," he said.

Ringling's absence leaves about 23 circuses on the road, of various size and format, in the United States today, according to Payne.

"Some are still three-ring, some are one-ring, but I think the common denominator is what is left is a great deal more flexible than Ringling Bros. could be," he said.

After years of changing public tastes, declining ticket sales and bitter battles with animal rights activists, Feld Entertainment, which owns of "The Greatest Show on Earth," announced in January that the show would be making its final run.

Related: Ringling Bros. Circus, 'The Greatest Show on Earth,' to Close After 146 Years

The company said it saw a rapid drop in ticket sales after it ended its use of live elephants in performances last May — following scrutiny from animal rights groups and local governments passing "anti-elephant" ordinances in response to those concerns.

Feld Entertainment spokesman Stephen Payne told NBC News the company "wanted to give fans one last chance to experience" the circus with its final tours.

"It really is the end of an era," he said.

Ringling Bros. had two touring circuses this past season, one of which ended its run earlier this month in Providence, Rhode Island.

PHOTOS: Ringling Bros. Draws Curtains on the Greatest Show on Earth

For Ashley Byrne, associate director of campaigns for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA),the circus' final show "can't come soon enough."

"It is long overdue for this very cruel company to end their days," Byrne told NBC News.

PETA has long been an outspoken critic of Ringling's use of elephants — and it still protesting the circus' use of other animals, including big cats, horses, kangaroos and small farm animals.

The group has also expressed disapproval with Ringling for retiring its 11 touring elephants to its own company-owned 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida.

13 PHOTOS
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey elephants
See Gallery
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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Byrne said that while the circus was ending, PETA was concerned over where the animals may go next.

"All of the animals, including the [elephants] should be sent to reputable sanctuaries," she said.

The group, as well as local animal rights advocates, have been protesting the circus' final shows, and plan to be there again on Sunday.

Feld Entertainment and the circus' workers have repeatedly denied any claims of animal mistreatment, and spokesman Payne said they had found homes for all of the approximately 50 animals with the show.

Any animals that are owned by the show's presenters will remain with them, he said. For example, trainer Alexander Lacey's famous big cats will remain with him, he said, while the show's other tigers will go to a center that specializes in tigers.

Payne said that due to privacy concerns, the company was not releasing the specific information on where all the animals were going, but insisted that they had to meet Feld's standards for a "high-level of care."

Lacey told NBC News there was a lot of "misinformation" about the way circuses treat their animals and said it was important for him to show his audiences the relationship he has with his big cats,

"I try to display to the public the friendship I have with my animals," he said.

Lacey said he and everyone who worked with the show were "all heartbroken" that is was all coming to an end, but that he personally hoped to "do this for many more years to come" because "I love doing what I do."

Performer Ashley Vargas said she was proud to have been a part of such a historic show and among such talented people.

"It's sad that people aren't going have that anymore, but people that have experienced the 'Greatest Show on Earth, I'm sure they have it some place deep in their heart," she said.

Vargas said she looked forward to the "new adventures" she and her circus family would have going forward.

O'Donnell, the museum director, said he hoped the Ringling Bros. circus would be remembered for its special place in history, but looked forward to seeing the future of the industry.

"It will, as it should, be revered in the circus heritage, and in American heritage," he said. "It has been the home for performers that will go on start their own circuses, and in many ways might be cultivating the next greatest show on earth."

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