Feld Entertainment presents The Greatest Show On Earth® to more than 10 million people in 120 cities each year. But the family-owned firm also produces a number of other high-profile events, including Disney On Ice, Disney Live, and another half-dozen shows within its Feld Motor Sports division. In July 2014, Feld Entertainment plans to launch its newest production, Marvel Universe Live, the largest Marvel-based superhero and villain show in the world.

Irvin Feld, the patriarch of Feld Entertainment, acquired Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey in 1967. His son Kenneth, the current chairman and CEO, joined the operation in 1970.

 The rise of animal activism happened about a decade later. “Things changed with the evolution of these animal rights groups from the traditional support of helping homeless pets to becoming political machines. A lot of that started to rise up in the mid to late ’80s and early ’90s,” Payne says.

“There are certain groups that are particularly focused on the policy, legislative and legal aspects of it against us. This has nothing to do with the actual care we provide our animals. It’s the political viewpoint that they hold, and sadly, a lot of them also feel that we’re right and you’re wrong, so they feel that nothing they do is out of bounds.”

He says the operation’s Asian elephants are the biggest focus of activists, “even though they have absolutely no knowledge whatsoever about what it takes to care for an 8,000-lb. animal.” He says The Greatest Show On Earth complies with all federal, state and local regulations, in addition to its own stringent internal animal care guidelines. In more than 40 years of current ownership, Ringling Bros. has never been found in violation of the federal Animal Welfare Act for neglect or mistreatment of its animals, but meets or exceeds all federal animal-welfare standards of animal care and safety.

“Why would Disney have a three-decade relationship with a company that’s not doing the right thing? They trust us with telling their stories; they trust us with their intellectual property. It goes back to the fact that what we’re doing, we’re doing it right.  And this political pressure and claims that we don’t aren’t true. Most people when we educate them about it will recognize that.”

That education is part of every Ringling Bros. performance, he adds. “Where it’s possible, we have what’s called an animal open house, and we allow people before the show to see where the animals live, talk to their care providers and ask questions. But one of the big things we also do is have animal care information available at each and every show, because we’re proud of what we do.”

In fact, in 1995, Feld Entertainment established the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida. It’s a research, reproduction and retirement facility dedicated to the preservation of the Asian elephant. A total of 25 Asian elephants have been born in the facility, Payne reports, and Ringling Bros. has funded more than a half-million dollars toward research and conservation projects in the past six years.

Payne says Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, is adamant that his operation provide excellent care for its animals, he’s proud of that care, and he’s not about to capitulate to extremists.

That’s a sentiment with which Payne heartily agrees. “The ultimate goal of these groups is to put you out of business. Once you capitulate on one thing, they will define the debate and make more and more demands. That’s true for us with the circus, and that’s true for ranchers. Most Americans, 99.9% of Americans, wouldn’t want to live in the world that these people envision.”

His advice for beef producers is to remain vigilant. “You know what’s best in caring for your animals. Be proud of what you do in production agriculture. You feed the world.

“But also recognize that this is not a stand-alone fight; we are all in this together. All of us have a common interest in doing what’s right for animal welfare and protecting our businesses. We can’t let them define the debate; we’re not doing anything wrong.”


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