Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus Returns Without Animals

The circus, once synonymous with animals performing under the big top, is undergoing a remarkable transformation. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which closed its doors in 2017, is making a comeback, but this time, it’s a circus devoid of animals.

This shift marks a turning point in the entertainment industry, ushering in a new era of compassion and awareness.

Animal exploitation in circuses often leads to physical and psychological suffering for the animals involved.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons / chensiyuan, License: CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED
Animal exploitation in circuses often leads to physical and psychological suffering for the animals involved.

The Power of Awareness

The decision to eliminate animal acts from the circus did not happen overnight. It was a culmination of years of awareness campaigns that exposed the cruelty and suffering endured by captive wild animals. One notable example are the investigations into Ryan Easley’s ShowMe Tigers act, which uncovered violent training methods. Tigers were whipped, confined to cramped transport cages, and forced into unnatural performances. Such revelations made it impossible for the public to view animal acts with the same enthusiasm.

Forced performances and constant travel can result in chronic stress and anxiety in circus animals.
Photo: Pexels
Forced performances and constant travel can result in chronic stress and anxiety in circus animals.

Legislative Action

In response to mounting public concern and awareness, lawmakers across the United States took action. Eight states and 177 localities in 37 states have enacted restrictions on the use of wild animals in circuses and traveling shows, reports the Animal Legal Defense Fund. Suffolk County, New York, has followed suit by passing a comprehensive law banning a range of wild animals from performing in traveling shows. These legislative changes reflect a growing consensus that animals should not be exploited for entertainment.

Evolving Entertainment

As the public’s appetite for animal-free entertainment grew, the industry adapted. Innovative shows like Cirque du Soleil captivated audiences with avant-garde performances by highly skilled human artists. Smaller circuses, such as Circus Vazquez, recognized the shift in sentiment and embraced animal-free shows, thriving as a result. The evolution of the circus industry paved the way for a more compassionate form of entertainment.

Animals in circuses are frequently subjected to harsh training methods, including the use of whips, chains, and electric prods.
Photo: Ringling Brothers Circus (6105512254), Wikimedia Commons / Bob n Renee, License: CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED
Animals in circuses are frequently subjected to harsh training methods, including the use of whips, chains, and electric prods.

The End of an Era

While some circuses chose to evolve, others clung to outdated practices. According to the HSUS, circuses like Shriner circuses, Carden Circus, Loomis Bros. Circus, and Culpepper & Merriweather Circus continue to use wild animals. Sadly, at county and state fairs and festivals, animals like tigers, lions, bears, and sea lions are still subjected to stressful and unnatural performances.

A Childhood Memory Transformed

For many, the circus evokes cherished childhood memories of awe-inspiring animal performances. But for some, like Kitty Block, President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), the circus experience left a lasting impact. Her poignant recollection of witnessing animals perform under duress at Ringling Bros. serves as a reminder that change often takes time, persistence, and a shift in public sentiment.

Animals in circuses are denied the opportunity to exhibit natural behaviors and engage in their natural habitats.
Ringling Brothers Circus (6104994081), Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Bob n Renee, License: CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED
Animals in circuses are denied the opportunity to exhibit natural behaviors and engage in their natural habitats.

Celebrating a Brighter Future

Ringling Bros.’ decision to return as an animal-free circus aligns with the more enlightened times we live in. Without whips and terrified animals, the new show promises to be more dazzling and satisfying. It symbolizes a commitment to a more humane and compassionate form of entertainment that resonates with today’s audiences.

A Continuing Mission

The journey toward animal-free entertainment has been long and challenging, spanning over a century. As Ringling Bros. embarks on this new chapter, we can look forward to a circus that captivates audiences without causing harm to animals. It serves as a testament to the power of awareness, compassion, and the enduring commitment to creating a better world for animals in entertainment.

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