On Sunday, May 21, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will hold its final “greatest show on earth,” at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island.
For the last time, Ringling’s lions, tigers, camels and other captive animals will enter the ring and be forced to perform demeaning and unnatural tricks. It’s a momentous occasion that took the animal rights movement more than three decades to achieve.
I personally led some of the earliest rallies outside Ringling Bros. shows, back in the late 1980s. As the outcry from activists and advocacy groups grew, Ringling willfully ignored it. Instead of switching exclusively to human performers — who perform by choice rather than force — the 146-year-old institution continued to bully animals. This was its downfall.
The reason is simple: When it comes to animal rights, the tide of public opinion has turned. A 2015 Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans — 62 percent — believe that animals deserve protection, and 32 percent believe animals should have the same rights as people. In recent years, many businesses have been forced to change their practices.
SeaWorld announced it would end its orca breeding program last March, and the state of California outlawed such programs a few months later. Several years ago, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to ban the use of bullhooks on elephants, and the city of West Hollywood banned the sale of fur products. Many pet stores have stopped selling dogs from puppy mills.
But while the end of Ringling is a victory for every activist who wrote a letter, signed a petition or protested outside the circus doors, the fight to free animals from cruelty, including in the entertainment industry, is far from over. Other circuses continue to exploit animals for profit, as do zoos, aquariums and rodeos.
For instance, in 2002, an investigator for my organization, Last Chance for Animals, captured footage of elephant training at the Carson…