Ringling Bros. Circus Returns—Without Animals—Five Years After Closing


Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced Wednesday its big top circus will resume touring five years after it was retired, and animals will no longer be part of the performance.

Key Facts

The Greatest Show On Earth will embark on a 50-city tour in fall 2023.

In 2017, it shut down –permanently, it said–after 146 years.

The updated show will focus on human feats, rather than animal acts, according to the New York Times.

The cast, crew and equipment will no longer be trekked across the country through a miles-long-train, which was sold off in 2017.

A Ringling Bros. TikTok account will debut next year, and brand NFTs are in the works.

Crucial Quote

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,” Rachel Mathews, an executive from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation, told the Times.

Key Background

Lions, tigers and elephants were a part of the Ringling Bros. act for dozens of years. As the show aged, so did the anger from animal rights groups and activists who frowned on the treatment of the performer animals. Elephants last appeared in a Ringling show in 2016, as some states banned the use of them in performances. In addition to issues with the animals, dwindling ticket sales, high railroad costs and high interest in digital entertainment led to the show’s 2017 downfall. “In the past decade there’s been more change in the world than in the 50 or 75 years prior to that. And I think it isn’t relevant to people in the same way,” Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus, said at the time. In October, it was reported the show could announce its return without animals sometime this year.


Months after the circus closed in 2017, Hugh Jackman, Zendaya, Zac Efron and Michelle Williams starred in The Greatest Showman, a movie musical about P.T. Barnum and the creation of the Barnum & Bailey circus.

Further Reading

Ringling Circus Is Returning. Lions, Tigers and Dumbo Are Not. (The New York Times)

After 146 Years, Ringling Brothers Circus Takes Its Final Bow (The New York Times)

Nowhere left to run away to: The final days of the circus (Associated Press)

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