I-Team elephant reports marked beginning of end for circus

This weekend’s last show on earth for “The Greatest Show on Earth” has been in the making for 22 years, since a series of I-Team reports questioned whether elephants at Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus were “Tamed or Tortured.”

Ringling’s final circus show after 146 years will take place on Sunday in New York; an American institution that made annual visits to Chicago and the suburbs, finally defeated by changing consumers, rising operating costs, a long legal fight and the steady drumbeat of animals rights activists.

The circus was founded in Wisconsin in the late 1800s. Now owned by Feld Entertainment, ticket sales have nosedived in recent years.

One allegation of animal abuse led to a 14-year court battle with animal-rights groups, who, it turned out, had bribed a former circus producer nearly $200,000 to make false accusations about the circus’s treatment of animals. The groups ended up paying Feld a total of some $25 million in settlement costs.

Nevertheless, questions remained and local anti-elephant ordinances passed across the country. When Ringling Bros announced in 2015 that it would phase out its herd of performing elephants, it ended up being the circus’ death knell. Many remaining circus fans stopped attending shows altogether and the tide of ticket sales continued in a free-fall.

In better days, Ringling was a live entertainment force in the U.S. with several touring shows and three-ring tents that sat 12,000 people. Elephants were always a main attraction and the most popular, sustaining feature of the shows.

“It’s sad that it ends and all the wonderful people that make up ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’,” said Kenneth Feld, CEO Feld Entertainment. “On the other side of it, we have to be very happy that for 146 years, we’ve been able to bring that kind of joy to hundreds of millions of people that we have.”

During the I-Team’s 1995 series entitled “Tamed or Tortured,” videos revealed the tactics that handlers allegedly employed to make…

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