ELLENTON, Fla. (CBSNewYork/AP) — It’s lights out for the “Greatest Show on Earth.”

After 146 years, the owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus said that the show will close forever in May.

Kenneth Feld, CEO of Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus, says declining attendance and high operating costs are among the reasons for closing.

“There isn’t any one thing,” said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment. “This has been a very difficult decision for me and for the entire family.”

The company broke the news to circus employees Saturday night after shows in Orlando and Miami.

The announcement comes a year after the group retired its 11 remaining touring elephants — a response to growing public concern for animal rights.

“It has become more difficult and will become more difficult to tour elephants, and we just thought this would be in the best interests of the elephants,” Anna Feld, executive vice president of Feld Entertainment, said.

Feld Entertainment said when they removed the elephants from the show, ticket sales declines more rapidly than expected.

Animal rights groups that have publicly opposed the circus and its performing animals are applauding the decision.

“PETA heralds the end of what has been the saddest show on earth for wild animals, and asks for all other animal circuses to follow suit, as this is a sign of changing times,” animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said in a statement.

Fans of the long-running circus can’t believe its run is coming to an end.

“There are no clowns anymore, there are no trained dogs anymore,” Marvin Friedman said. “There’s a whole part of Americana that’s gone.”

Americana, circus historians say, that was part of the fabric of this country.

“No other entertainment art form has affected American culture like the circus has,” Scott O’Donnell from the Circus World Museum said. “In its heyday, the circus, when it came to town, schools closed. Businesses were let out. It was like a national holiday because the circus was here.”

Known for its wild animals, colorful costumes, and death-defying acrobats, the greatest show on earth has been entertainment fixture in the United States since the 1800s, CBS2’s Jessica Moore reported.

Phineas Taylor Barnum made a traveling spectacle of animals and human oddities popular, while the five Ringling brothers performed juggling acts and skits from their home base in Wisconsin. Eventually, they merged and the modern circus was born. The sprawling troupes traveled around America by train, wowing audiences with the sheer scale of entertainment and exotic animals.

The Feld family bought the Ringling circus in 1967. The show was just under 3 hours then. Today, the show is 2 hours and 7 minutes, with the longest segment — a tiger act — clocking in at 12 minutes.

Ringling Bros. has two touring circuses this season and will perform 30 shows between now and May. Major stops include Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston and Brooklyn. The final shows will be in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 7 and in Uniondale, New York, at the Nassau County Coliseum on May 21.

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