Circus closure will put hundreds out of work, displace dozens of animals

The circus has been a 146-year tradition, but now, it's just four months away from ending. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will complete its last performance ever in May.

Feld Entertainment announcement late Saturday has shocked the nation and  generations that have grown up with "The Greatest Show on Earth."

Kenneth Feld, CEO of Feld Entertainment, says this was something they saw coming but hoped would not happen.  Over the last eight to 10 years, he said, they've seen a decline in ticket sales. But when they retired their elephants in May, that's when the company say a harsh decline.

"Of course we're sad," said Feld. "It was a difficult decision to make. It's not a sustainable business model. The history will be preserved."

"It's heartbreaking that 146 years of a show that brought my family to America. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for that show," offered famous wire walker Nik Wallenda, who toured with Ringling in 2007 and 2008.

Ringling Bros. picked up Wallenda's family in the late 1920's. The "Flying Wallendas" became a household name. 

Now, as the circus ends its life, more than 400 people with be left without a job.  Feld says they will try and place some with their performers, but not everyone will have that luck. They say they'll offer employees severance packages and will work to find them new jobs or even new homes.

Many call the circus train their home while on tour, so it is not just a job they are losing -- but a home.

Wallenda believes there could have been other options.

"I wish they would have sold it and given the opportunity to someone else. Our industry and the words I live by are 'never give up.' We don't give up. We can get knocked down, but we are going to keep getting back up," he said.

As for the more-than 100 animals, 50 to 60 will need new homes. Feld says they will begin to look for proper places for them. They haven't specified where the animals -- which include lions, tigers, horses, camels, and more -- will go.

In a press conference Monday, Feld said, "This is not a win for animal rights activists, nor is it a win for anyone." 

Feld says they will also look for a place for their historic costumes and show-oriented items. The circus company hopes to preserve them.  

The last that the Tampa Bay area will see of Ringling Bros. will be at the end of January at Amalie Arena. The circus will have a future until May, and then, Feld says, it will become part of a glorious past.

The remaining shows aren't yet sold out, but Feld said, "We hope people will come for the last memory." 

Meanwhile, Wallenda believes other smaller circuses will continue to thrive.

"It's about adjusting to our times," he added.  "That's what the circus has done over and over again. The circus is so resilient that there is no question the circus will bounce back up and it'll be better than ever."


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- Inside look: Where Ringling's elephants retire
- What happens between now and Ringling's closure?
- Circus performers show attitude of perseverance
- Ringling history: From freak shows to the big top
- Rescue group to Ringling: We'll take your cats
- Old Ringling circus train car to get new life

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