Ringling Bros Circus
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A Ringling Bros. & Barnum and Bailey performer waves from atop an elephant on the National Mall in front of the U.S. Capitol during the annual Pachyderm Parade on Capitol Hill March 22, 2011.

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus Is Making a Comeback — Without Animals

Sophie Hirsh - Author

May 18 2022, Published 2:18 p.m. ET

In 2017, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus permanently shut down, after 146 years in business. It was something that animal rights activists applauded, as they had been campaigning for the world-famous circus to stop using animals in its acts for decades.

Now, five years later, the Ringling Brothers Circus has announced that The Greatest Show on Earth will soon resume — without animals.

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Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey
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Big Cat Trainer and Presenter Alexander Lacey performs on the final day of the Ringling Bros Barnum and Bailey Circus on May 21, 2017.

The Ringling Bros circus is making a comeback — but the animals are not.

On May 18, 2022, Feld Entertainment announced that Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey is officially back in business, with The Greatest Show On Earth set to return on Sept. 28, 2023, when it will tour across over 50 cities across the U.S. and North America.

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The team behind the circus went on The TODAY Show on Wednesday to share the news, where they confirmed that the revamped show will not feature any animals.

“We will not be touring animals,” Juliette Feld, the COO of Feld Entertainment, confirmed on the talk show. “That is the past. The great thing is that we’ve had a blank piece of paper to reimagine,” added CEO Kenneth Feld.

The show previously used animals including tigers, monkeys, and elephants, the latter of whom were sent to retire at a sanctuary in Florida after the show shut down.

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To make up for the lack of animal performances — as well as traditional clowns, which will no longer be in the show either — the circus will incorporate impressive new human feats, new technologies, and even interactive social media elements.

“We are innovating all aspects of the live show and modernizing the franchise to create an engaging property that is built for today’s families and will last another 150 years,” Kenneth Feld said in a statement.

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Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus
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Ringmaster Jonathan Lee Iverson performs in the closing number on the final day of the Ringling Bros Barnum and Bailey Circus.

Animal rights advocates are applauding Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus for quitting animals.

Animal advocates are thrilled that one of the most famous circuses on Earth is joining the growing list of animal-free circuses.

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"Ringling is returning with a bang, transforming the saddest show on Earth into a dazzling display of human ingenuity after 146 years of animal abuse,” Rachel Mathews, the Director of Captive Animal Law Enforcement at PETA Foundation, said in a statement sent to Green Matters. “PETA is cheering on the animal-free revamp.”

PETA is also offering to give the web domain Circuses.com to Ringling to “celebrate the spotlight’s turn toward talented human professionals who choose to perform." As of publication, the domain redirects to a page on PETA’s website that describes some of the abuses animals are subjected to in the circus.

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Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey
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Members of PETA picket on the final day of the Ringling Bros Barnum and Bailey Circus.

Before Ringling shut down, PETA shared images of behind-the-scenes cruelty at The Greatest Show on Earth on many occasions. PETA found evidence of Ringling trainers: pulling baby elephants away from their mothers; forcing baby elephants to spend months straight standing on concrete floors; holding baby elephants down with tightly-fastened ropes; beating elephants; and covering up elephants’ bloody wounds with gray blood coagulants.

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And in general, circus animals are subject to perpetual confinement to trailers; insufficient medical care; being threatened with violence to get them to learn tricks; and being forced to perform tricks.

Clearly, Ringling has realized forcing animals to perform is a way of the past. In fact, there are certain places that prohibit circuses from using wild animals, including California, New Jersey, Hawaii, and France.

There are also some circuses employing technology-based alternatives to live animals. For instance, Germany’s Circus Roncalli uses hologram animals, and PETA created an animatronic elephant named Ellie, voiced by actress Priyanka Chopra.

With so many other ways to entertain and wow audiences sans animal cruelty, the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus is truly about to become the happiest show on Earth.

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