Ringling Bros. shuts down the big top

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will perform its final show on Sunday, May 21 and even if you're not under the tent, you'll still be able to watch. "I'm gonna be the last word on it too", said Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson.

Like numerous show's 300 human performers, Vargas said, she plans to take a break before seeking out new opportunities, perhaps in Europe, where many of her castmates hail from.

CEO Kenneth Feld chose to close down the circus citing a dramatic dip in ticket sales.

Over the years, animal rights activists had targeted Ringling, saying that forcing animals to perform and transporting them around the country amounted to abuse.

The performing pachyderms, which typically paraded down the street to signal the arrival of the circus in a town, were staple of Ringling Brothers for years. Ringling Brothers' elephants are now being housed at a special facility outside Orlando.

"It's incredibly heartwarming to see all of you that have come out for the final performance", Kenneth Feld, chairman and chief executive of parent Feld Entertainment Inc, said at the show, which was sold out and live streamed on the Ringling website. After phasing out the elephants, the owner said, the decline in attendance was "greater than could have been anticipated". "Now that we have made this decision, as a company, and as a family, we will strive to support our circus performers and crew in making the transition to new opportunities".

Until Sunday, the company's train was the primary residence for most of the performers, who hail from 13 different countries.

During Sunday's final performance, Alexander Lacey, the circus's big cat trainer, addressed the animal-rights issue directly, pausing from his act to tell the crowd that the circus had bred, raised and cared for 500 lions and tigers - on display Sunday night, he said, were the circus's ninth generation of tigers and 11th generation of lions. She has spent the past 10 years organizing demonstrations against Ringling as a campaigner with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

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

A second unit of the traveling circus closed this month in Providence, R.I. Some owned by the company are expected to be moved to zoos and conservation centers in the US.

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