Ringling Bros. at the old Boston Garden

Excepted from Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary'' in GoLocal24.com

I felt a pang the other  day when reading that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus would close after its current season ends after 146 years.

The writing has probably been on the wall for some time. Increasingly, people, and especially kids, have sought entertainment on screens and not, well, in real-life performances. And coercing animals into cleverly designed but silly acts has become increasingly unpopular among many groups.

The most popular animals at the circus have usually been the elephants. Ringling Brothers stopped using them last year, which accelerated the decline in attendance that has been underway for years.

Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus, retired its elephants to its elephant conservation center in Florida last year. As for its still-working animals – lions, tigers,  kangeroos, llamas, alpaca,  donkeys and camels -- the company says they will go to good homes. I’m sure that the Humane Society will monitor these transfers.


My parents took all five of their children at various times to Ringling’s “The Greatest Show on Earth’’ several years in a row at gritty old Boston Garden. My strongest memories of these events is the smell of the manure,  the ominous, near-hysterical music (like the track from a Fellini movie) and  the chameleons, sold in Chinese restaurant takeout boxes. They were often dead by the time we got home.


It may a good thing that Ringling Bros. is closing. But, as with zoos, the undignified and for a long time brutal (those whips!) display of circus animals also raised the public’s affection for such charismatic animals and thus has helped boost campaigns to save them. The biggest threats to wild animals are the destruction of countryside because of human overpopulation, global warming and the hideous trade in ivory and other animal parts, centered in China. Indeed, the Chinese may still succeed in exterminating the African elephant.

Late last year, China’s Communist dictatorship announced that it would ban all ivory trade and processing by the end of this year. Very, very late in the game. Meanwhile, the trade in other the parts of other endangered animals, such as tigers, continues virtually unabated in that country. Much of it is based on ridiculous but long-held ideas that parts of some animals have aphrodisiac qualities for humans.