The iconic circus is set for a comeback after closing in 2017. But this time, it will focus on human feats and stories, and so sparing animals from having to perform.
The so-called “Greatest Show on Earth” is set to make a comeback, as the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus announce its return to the stage.
The Ringling Bros circus stopped its 146 year-run back in 2017, after falling ticket sales and a long history of criticism and legal challenges by animal rights groups who condemned the circus’s use of animals.
Now, the show’s big return – set to begin with a huge 50-city tour next year – will for the first time be free of animals, and instead focus on human feats and narrative story lines.
“Ringling has always evolved: Logically, in order to be successful for 146 years, you constantly have to change,” Kenneth Feld, the chief executive officer of Feld Entertainment, which purchased the circus in 1967, told The New York Times.
Ringling’s controversial use of animals had faced constant negative attention, with the circus forcing animals such as elephants, lions, and tigers to perform tricks, endure lengthy journeys across the country, and suffer many incidents of alleged animal abuse.
Undercover investigations repeatedly revealed the miserable lives of the animals, including the Ringling Elephants who spent most of their long lives either in chains or on trains, under constant threat of the bullhook, or ankus—the menacing tool used to control elephants.
As calls for better treatment towards animals have continued to grow over the years, Ringling’s latest iteration will reflect modern attitudes and instead focus on inspiring and exciting human performers. The circus has already begun worldwide auditions for performers in countries including Ethiopia, Mongolia, and the US, with the 50-city tour scheduled to begin on Sept. 28, 2023.
Animal rights campaigners are among those welcoming the return of Ringling’s circus.
“Feld’s decision to bring the circus back without animals sends a very clear message to the industry that the circus can dazzle audiences with willing human performers and that no animal needs to be exploited,” said Rachel Mathews, a director from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation, told the Times.
“What people see in the circus is a display of human dominance,” Mathews added. “The fact is the public doesn’t want to see that anymore.”
In 2009, PETA conducted a hidden-camera investigation into the treatment of Ringling’s elephants. In 2011, the U.S. Department of Agriculture ordered Feld Entertainment, the circus’s parent company, to pay a $270,000 penalty to settle violations of the Animal Welfare Act for its treatment of performing animals.
Criticism of animal acts in the circus dates back to at least 1920s, when the Ringling circus, facing pushback from a growing animal rights movement, removed Lions and Tigers for about a decade, according to Greg Parkinson, the former executive director of Circus World Museum, in the Ringling family’s hometown, Baraboo, Wis. (The Sea Lion and Elephant performances stayed on.)
As Ringling Bros. announces an animal-free comeback tour after a five-year hiatus, PETA is offering it the group’s web domain Circuses.com, which was previously used to expose the abuse of animals used in its circus.
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