It was once hailed as “The Greatest Show on Earth.” But the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was hiding a not-so-great secret. According to the animal rights organization PETA (a self-confessed “nemesis” of the traveling circus), Ringling Bros exploited and abused animals for entertainment.
In 2017, following expensive animal abuse-focused court cases and amid falling attendance, the circus shut down its big top for good. But now it’s back. And it seems to have learned its lesson, because its new traveling show is totally animal-free.
According to Ringling Bros, the new show will launch next year in September, before embarking on a 50-city tour in North America.
The circus ran for nearly 150 years before it shut down in 2017. But, with a new and improved approach, the updated version hopes to match that legacy.
“We are innovating all aspects of the live show and modernizing the franchise,” said Kenneth Feld, the CEO of Feld Entertainment, the company that owns Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. “[We want] to create an engaging property that is built for today’s families and will last another 150 years.”
According to Feld Entertainment, the new circus will focus purely on human acts, and its entertainers will “push the limits of human potential and create jaw-dropping moments.” It is currently searching for new talent, with rehearsals beginning at the end of June 2022.
An animal-free circus industry
Feld Entertainment’s decision to focus on human acts over animals isn’t just an ethical one, it’s also a smart business move. Including wild animals in its acts again would limit the states it could visit with its new traveling show, as several (including California, Illinois, and New Jersey) have outright bans or restrictions on circus animal acts.
Entire countries have also banned the use of wild animals in the circus. Most recently, the French parliament voted in favor of legislation that would protect wild animals from becoming circus acts.
The French ecology minister said of the move: “To act in support of animal well-being is the mark of a conscious society and of its responsibility towards a fragile natural world. It is a sign of mature civilization.”