Circus’ closure a sign of changing times

Forlorn-looking lions and tigers with dead eyes will no doubt still pace in tiny cages in roadside attractions in many countries around the world, off-the-books and in many cases illegally.

Still, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s begrudging announcement this past weekend that the Ringling Bros circus is to close the “Greatest Show on Earth” after 146 years in business is big news.

Coupled with the closing last year of Thailand’s so-called “Tiger Temple” and the more recent decision by SeaWorld to phase out its increasingly controversial killer whale shows, it means the institutionalization of animals performing before a “captive” audience on an industrial scale is no longer a going concern.

Barnum & Bailey’s decision is not universally popular. A CBS News report earlier today blamed the internet” and “animal rights activists” for the move, labelling them “culprits” in the call to close the world’s most famous circus. There are more diplomatic — not to mention accurate — words that could have been used.

Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey itself cited declining ticket sales and high operating costs as the real reason behind the move. Kenneth Feld, CEO of Feld Entertainment, the family business which has run the circus since the late 1960s, said in a statement that the Branum & Bailey circus will stage its final performance in May.

Activists who have campaigned for decades against the travelling circus’ animal acts from welcomed the news, regardless of the reasons behind the decision.,

After all, for many people, the closing of an international entertainment industry that uses performing tigers, acrobatic elephants and dancing bears to make money is simply part of a larger trend against the forced use of animals to, quite literally, perform for their supper.

Ringling Bros already stopped its elephant shows last May, following a string of legal battles with activists; the circus’ remaining elephants were sent to a conservation centre in central Florida to live out their remaining years.

With endangered species facing an increasingly uncertain future in the wild, the focus of late has been more on captive breeding programs, especially for large, familiar predators like lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, polar bears — and elephants.

Circuses long ago dispensed with any pretence of being part of largescale captive breeding programs, however. New investigations have shown quite the opposite: that for every animal performing in captivity, many animals died along the way so that that one individual might reach its final destination, whether it be a zoo, a private owner or a circus. The exotic animal trade and illegal trafficking of critically endangered cheetah cubs has been shown to be the single biggest threat facing the world’s fastest land animal today.

Zoos may be the last stand for many of our most recognizeable and iconic animal species — heaven only knows what future faces polar bears, for example, given the catastrophic, and accelerating, loss of sea ice in the high Arctic. Zoos are not immune from criticism, though. Not all animals in zoos came from other zoos, or were bred in captitivity. For that reason, some more nelightened countries around the world, Namibia being a most notable example, have banned the export of its wild animals, particularly those on the IUCN endangered species list.

Circuses are on a whole different level ofresponsibility, though. Wildlife trafficking is now a multi-billion dollar business that rivals the drug trade in some countries. Barnum & Bailey’s decision means one less arena that caged lions and tigers will perform in for profit. The days of using big cats as cash cows are clearly numbered. Good riddance.