'Greatest Show on Earth' takes its final bow after 146 years

NEW YORK, May 21 (Reuters) - The clowns, animal acts and acrobats of the storied Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus are taking their final bow at an arena outside New York City on Sunday in the farewell performance of the "Greatest Show on Earth" after nearly 150 years.

Capping a legacy that stretches back to the legendary 19th century showman P.T. Barnum, the circus bids adieu at a series of shows this weekend at newly refurbished Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale on New York's Long Island.

The final show on Sunday evening was a sell-out and a worldwide audience can watch the event via a live stream on the Ringling website.

The finale, announced by parent Feld Entertainment Inc in January, comes a year after the company bowed to pressure from animal rights activists and agreed to stop using elephants in its performances. A featured attraction for more than a century, the elephants had come to symbolize the Ringling Bros brand.

Feld decided to fold up the tent as a result of high operating costs combined with lower ticket sales, it said in a statement at the time. After phasing out the elephants, the owner said, the decline in attendance was "greater than could have been anticipated."

RELATED: A look back at 'The Greatest Show on Earth'

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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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Although it retired its elephants, Ringling Bros continued to showcase tigers, lions, horses, dogs and camels until the end, despite fierce criticism from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

The animal rights group tied Ringling's demise to its long-standing resistance to demands that it stop using animals.

"Circuses around the world that beat Ringling to the punch in making the decision to stop using animals are thriving. But Ringling stonewalled for decades," PETA said in a statement posted on its website on Saturday.

The circus has long defended its treatment of animals as humane.

"Our audiences today loved seeing horses, dogs and two very talented 700-pound pigs," Feld spokesman Stephen Payne said on Sunday.

In December, Ringling Bros named Kristen Michelle Wilson as the first female ringmaster in its 146-year history. In making her the 39th person to play the role of circus host, Feld said it was taking a step toward modernizing the circus.

The 13 Asian elephants used in Ringling's two touring companies were phased out and retired to the company's 200-acre (81 hectare) Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk City, Florida.

Fewer than 40,000 Asian elephants remain in the wild. About 250 are in captivity in the United States, 26 of which were born in the past 20 years at Ringling facilities. (Additional reporting by Barbara Goldberg in New York; Writing by Frank McGurty; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Andrew Hay)

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