Growing up near Pennsylvania, just about the only animals Libby Sanders ever saw as a youngster were dogs, cats, birds, bugs, squirrels, deer and farm animals.
Then, something unexpected happened.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus came to Pittsburgh and the Sanders family drove to see it.
“It was wonderful,” Sanders recalled with a smile Sunday as she stood near the Ringling Circus Museum, which is on the same campus as the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota.
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I can imagine trying to convince a small kid who is sitting there playing video games and everything else to put them away and go see lions and tigers and bears when he sees them in 3D on the TV screen.
Sarasota’s Ron Sanders on the closing of the Ringling Bros. circus
“I think all little kids love it, right?” Sanders added. “The elephants, the animals you have never seen. All I had ever seen were cows and pigs so this was exciting.”
But Libby Sanders and her husband, Ron, who now live in Sarasota, said they were not shocked when they learned that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, “The Greatest Show on Earth,” which made its winter home in Sarasota for decades, is closing in May after 146 years.
“I can imagine trying to convince a small kid who is sitting there playing video games and everything else to put them away and go see lions and tigers and bears when he sees them in 3D on the TV screen,” Ron Sanders said.
Libby Sanders said when she was a child there was not political pressure on circuses to free animals, as there is now.
In fact, when executives with Feld Entertainment Studios of Palmetto, the corporate parent of the circus, announced the closure late Saturday, they mentioned their conflict with animal rights groups as one of a great many factors that led to the shut down.
“We just finished taking a trip to the Far East, and we visited an elephant rescue camp in Thailand, and many of the elephants there had been injured in circuses, but I do think it is more highly regulated here than overseas,” Ron Sanders said.
I think it’s great for the animals. It’s great for them to be released back into their natural habitat. If they are stuck in a cage their whole life then they don’t get to experience what an animal should and don’t get to live in the wild.
Jacob Grammerstorf on the closing of the Ringling Bros. circus
Birgit and Marlene Krueger, a mother and daughter, were visiting the circus museum from Germany. They both said they had mixed feelings. They are happy for the animals but sad that an event that brought people together and made them laugh and poke each other with glee also will be gone.
Marlene Krueger, who plans to be a teacher, remembers going to a Ringling circus in Germany when she was about 4 years old. She especially remembers her grandparents came also.
“I loved the clowns because they make you laugh and I loved the animal shows,” Marlene Krueger said.
“It’s sad,” Birgit Krueger said. “Circus is such a tradition for people and kids.”
Devany Newcomb, 15, of Osprey and Jacob Grammerstorf, 15, of Venice, were outside the circus Sunday contemplating the news that the circus was no longer going to tour with its animals and daring high wire acts.
“I was happy they exposed people to animals that they had never seen before, but I have mixed feelings on that,” Newcomb said. “There’s good and bad parts to that.”
“I think it’s great for the animals,” Grammerstorf said. “It’s great for them to be released back into their natural habitat. If they are stuck in a cage their whole life then they don’t get to experience what an animal should and don’t get to live in the wild.”
Both Newcomb and Grammerstorf thought the circus could be saved if the animal acts were replaced with new and more exotic human acts and interactive experiences for children.
Newcomb and Grammerstorf can imagine a “new” Ringling circus where little kids can experience computer-generated animals through virtual reality.
“If they made it more human-based with more aerobics and things like that,” Newcomb said. “Busch Gardens has human acts and I know they do very well.”
“More visuals,” Grammerstorf said. “People love visuals. The animal thing was cool and all but it’s just kind of over-played. I would say go for more originality, more human-based acts and a lot more visuals.”
Animal Defenders International welcomed the closing.
“After decades of exposing the suffering of animals in circuses behind the scenes, we are pleased to hear that Ringling has finally bowed to public opinion,” said Jan Creamer, president of Animal Defenders International.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Presents Circus XTREME will conclude its tour at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence, R.I., on May 7, 2017, and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey® Presents Out Of This World will conclude its tour at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., on May 21, 2017, Feld officials said in a news release.
If no performances are added to the schedule, the last chance for Florida residents to see the circus without leaving the state will be Jan. 25-29 at Amalie Arena in Tampa. There will be one show Wednesday, Jan. 25, and Thursday, Jan. 26, followed by two shows on Friday, Jan. 27, through Sunday, Jan. 29.