Ringling’s Animal-Free Comeback Sends a Powerful Industry Message: Cruelty Has No Place in Circuses


Katherine Sullivan | People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) - TRANSCEND Media Service

25 Oct 2021 – Nearly five years after PETA’s triumph over Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the shuttered show is reportedly planning its return to the big top—without elephants, tigers, or any other nonconsenting animals! The exciting announcement sends a powerful message to the entire industry, something that PETA’s been saying for decades: Cruelty doesn’t belong in the circus or in any other form of entertainment.

Feld Entertainment Chair and CEO Kenneth Feld and Chief Operating Officer Juliette Feld Grossman apparently declared the show’s 2023 animal exploitation–free comeback yesterday during a conference in Seattle, with a formal announcement reportedly slated for next year. (Feld Entertainment, which is Ringling Bros.’ parent company, has canceled its federal Animal Welfare Act license.) The announcement comes after PETA wrote to Grossman in 2020, after learning of the circus’s potential return, urging her and the company to employ only willing human talent in future productions.

We looked at our company like a 50-year-old startup,” Feld told the audience.

Feld’s forward-thinking revolution proves that circuses can dazzle audiences with willing human performers and that no animal need ever be exploited in the process. The company’s other animal-free productions are already brimming with creativity and consenting talent that transform arenas into entirely new worlds: They immerse audiences in the jungles of Jurassic World, where they encounter realistic dinosaurs, and they bring superheroes to life in Marvel Universe Live! We’re sure Ringling Bros.’ return—featuring human aerialists, clowns, and daredevils who are free to go home at the end of the day and to choose when they retire—will similarly wow spectators, all while leaving elephants and other animals in peace.

A Sign of Changing Times

Ringling Bros.’ announcement perfectly reflects our society’s intolerance of the practices of carting elephants and other nonconsenting animals across the country and bullying them into performing stupid tricks. Fifty years ago, less-informed audiences may have felt wonder at seeing a tiger jump through a hoop or laughed at a pig spinning on a pedestal. But times and tastes have changed: More people now understand that animals are sensitive individuals who deserve respect and protection. When it comes to today’s savvy consumers, the only wonder is how anyone could still find it entertaining to see an animal caged and taunted with a whip.

Ringling Bros. Could Actually Become ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’

From our inception, we were determined to end Ringling’s abuse of animals, because it truly was the saddest show on Earth. PETA and our supporters protested in nearly every city, published eyewitness footage showing elephants being beaten backstage, and worked with whistleblowers who showed the world that baby elephants are tied down and jabbed with bullhooks during training. As a result, ticket sales plummeted, cities started banning animal acts, and Ringling was forced out of the business of exploiting animals.

The Return of Ringling: How PETA Helped Shape the Circus’s Animal-Free Comeback

Members of PETA and other groups gathered outside Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on February 23, 2017, in New York City for Ringling Bros. circus’s final animal-abusing opening show, sending the exploitative circus off the best way we know how: with protest signs still held high and tissues in our hands to catch the tears of joy.

In 2020, White Oak Conservation—an organization certified by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums—took over Ringling’s former notorious Florida elephant-breeding and -training center, and it was announced that all elephants healthy enough to move to White Oak would be transferred to the vast, reputable facility. Earlier this year, the first group of elephants was indeed moved to White Oak, where they live in a herd and spend their days exploring an expansive natural habitat.


People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is the largest animal rights organization in the world, with more than 6.5 million members and supporters. PETA opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview, and focuses its attention on the four areas in which the largest numbers of animals suffer the most intensely for the longest periods of time: in laboratories, in the food industry, in the clothing trade, and in the entertainment industry. We also work on a variety of other issues, including the cruel killing of rodents, birds, and other animals who are often considered “pests” as well as cruelty to domesticated animals. PETA works through public education, cruelty investigations, research, animal rescue, legislation, special events, celebrity involvement, and protest campaigns.

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