After almost 150 years, the "Greatest Show on Earth" is coming to a close. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will hold its final show Sunday, closing the book on 146 years of spectacle.
The circus announced its decision to shut down in January, citing changing consumer tastes and battles with animals rights groups. Critics have condemned the circus' use of live animals in its acts, focusing especially on its elephants. As Mother Jones reported in 2011:
Ringling elephants spend most of their long lives either in chains or on trains, under constant threat of the bullhook, or ankus—the menacing tool used to control elephants. They are lame from balancing their 8,000-pound frames on tiny tubs and from being confined in cramped spaces, sometimes for days at a time. They are afflicted with tuberculosis and herpes, potentially deadly diseases rare in the wild and linked to captivity.
Of course, poor treatment of animals extends far beyond the confines of the circus. As J. Wesley Judd pointed out for Pacific Standard:
[T]here is an immense portion of United States' economy that is dependent on the slaughter of livestock. Over nine billion animals are killed for food every year in America. It's a very strange dynamic: The simultaneous passion that the majority of Americans feel for animals, and the indifference toward livestock.
Though Ringling announced it would retire its elephants in 2015, these final shows will still incorporate animals such as tigers and horses. The show will come to an end in Uniondale, New York, on Sunday night and will be streamed live on Facebook and YouTube.