Circus owner says final show is a 'celebration'

The Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus that has wowed crowds for almost 150 years with its "Greatest Show on Earth", before facing increasingly intense controversy over its use of live large animals, is taking its final bow Sunday night.

Sunday night the circus received a standing ovation, prompting ringmaster Jonathan Lee Iverson to say, "I thought the circus was antiquated?"

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.

In January, the parent company Feld Entertainment (who bought the circus back in 1967) announced that they were choosing to close the circus based on declining attendance and rising overhead costs to keep the company running.

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The move also came after animal rights activists took aim at the show, taking issue with the use of elephants and other animals by the performers.

Ticket sales have declined in recent years after accusations of animal cruelty.

Led by a lively "lion" and "tiger" roaring in triumph, members of PETA, Long Island Orchestrating for Nature, and CompassionWorks International gathered outside the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum on Long Island, New York, to send the circus off the best way we knew how: with protest signs still held high and tissues in our hands to catch the tears of victory.

Seeing the circus on its final day was "a little bit sad", said Jeff Sinkiewicz, 56, of Centereach, there with a friend and her 10-year-old daughter.

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Feld Entertainment and the circus' workers have repeatedly denied any claims of animal mistreatment, and spokesman Payne said they had found homes for all of the approximately 50 animals with the show.

The show will be available to stream live on the Ringling Bros. There are still circus performers.

A century later, Ringling had become the target of animal protection groups that claimed it mistreated its elephants, and the two sides soon locked in a 14-year legal battle so cutthroat that it involved secret informants paid by animal advocacy groups and a former Central Intelligence Agency official who was paid by Ringling's parent company, Feld Entertainment, to gather intel on activists.

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

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The 13 Asian elephants used in Ringling's two touring companies were phased out and retired to the company's 200-acre (81 hectare) Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk City, Florida. "But Ringling stonewalled for decades", PETA said in a statement Saturday.

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