The Numbers Behind Ringling’s Disappearing Elephant Act

Mar 06, 2015 at 3:33 PM ET

The announcement that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is phasing out elephants from “The Greatest Show on Earth” came as a shock to many — but it’s not a surprise if you look at the numbers behind the pachyderm act. The majestic animals have long been one of the most iconic parts of the circus’ 145-year history, but also one of its most controversial. These eight snapshots point to a long, steady decline in the making.

$2.7 Million A Year to Care For The Elephants

Ringling estimates that it costs $65,000 a year to care for each of its 42 remaining Asian elephants, bringing the annual total to $2.7 million. In 2009, the circus reportedly had 53 pachyderms.

$2.1 Million Lobbying Blitz

Since 2005, Feld Entertainment, Ringling’s parent company, has spent $2.1 million to lobbying the federal government, including a record $335,000 in 2010, according to the Center For Responsive Politics. 

$270,000 In Federal Fines

The USDA hit Ringling with a $270,000 fine in 2011 for violating the Animal Welfare Act. The penalty stemmed from evidence that the circus repeatedly abused its elephants between June 2007 and August 2011. It remains the largest AWA fine in USDA history.  

8,434 Fewer Fans In Asheville

Ringling circus drew 16,080 spectators when it rolled through Asheville, North Carolina, in 2011. By last year, that number had dwindled to 7,646, a 53 percent decrease. 

43 Circus-Averse Ordinances

There are now at least 43 U.S. cities and counties—including Oakland, Los Angeles and San Jose, California—that have banned or restricted traveling animal shows and circuses. 

31 Congressional Foes

The “Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act” proposed in Congress by Virginia Rep. James Moran would, among other things, ban Asian elephants from performing in circus shows. The bill attracted 31 co-sponsors in 2014. 

25 Cases of Abuse

In 2000, former Ringling employee Tom Rider provided USDA investigators with a sworn affidavit that documented 25 separate incidents of elephant abuse committed by his co-workers. 

16 Cases of Tuberculosis

At least 16 Ringling elephants traveling on the road tested positive for a human strain of tuberculosis in 2010, according to records obtained by PETA, the animal-rights group.