Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus held the last circus show performance in its 146-year history on Sunday. Ringmaster Johnathan Lee Iverson lamented the era's end ahead of the final circus performance at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, Long Island: "It’s the last safe space. It’s the last pure form of entertainment there is."

Feld Entertainment, which owns the brand, said ticket sales had declined over the years, plus their "transition of elephants off the road" also caused an even bigger drop in revenue.

Elephants were removed from the show in last year, two years ahead of schedule, after a long history of animal cruelty accusations. Feld Entertainment had denied treating the elephants poorly, but they did use bullhooks on the pachyderms. Bullhooks are used on elephants to inflict pain on their most sensitive areas and compel them to obey commands.

Ringling Bros. broadcast the last show live on YouTube:

The NY Times reports:

The final show was shot through with moments in which performers broke the fourth wall to reflect on the end. As two tigers sat watching, their master, Alexander Lacey, turned to the crowd. “People are not really concerned with lots of wildlife until they can feel it and see it, enjoy it and love it as much as I do,” he said, urging the audience to support well-run circuses and zoos. “Sorry, boys, I don’t usually do that,” he said turning back to the patient tigers, awaiting their next cues. “I’ve confused you.”

After the trapeze artists fell one by one into the net below their rig at the end of their act, the final two gymnasts walked toward each other in the middle of the net. Suspended above the ground, the two men grasped each other in a long embrace.

Feld Entertainment Chairman and CEO Kenneth Feld said last night, "From the bottom of our hearts we want to say thank you all very much, and please enjoy and celebrate the Greatest Show on Earth one last time... It’s always been our goal to be able to share with families the incredible experience, the joy, the happiness and the wonderment of the Greatest Show on Earth — and I think we’ve accomplished that goal."

Most of the animals will reportedly go to sanctuaries. National Geographic speculates that Ringling's closure may be the beginning of the end for other traveling circuses that rely on wildlife. A bill introduced in the House of Representatives in March "would require the 19 traveling circuses in the U.S. with performing animals to to use only human entertainers—or shut down."