Ringling Bros. circus comes to an end after years of animal cruelty

Ringling Bros. circus comes to an end after years of animal cruelty

Jordyn Laudanno

Baby elephant being abused during training.
Baby elephant being abused during training.

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus company is known as the “greatest show on earth.”

Five of the seven Ringling brothers merged their show with Barnum and Bailey’s productions in 1919. The original family circus was founded in 1884.


After 146 years of performing the circus, it is questionable as to why the family has decided to put an end to their famous shows. What caused such a sudden stop to what was the longest running circus in history?

The circus’ main attraction was its elephant performances. 

Elephants performing in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus

“When I think of the Ringling Bros. circus I think of their elephants,” sophomore Sarah Hingoo said.

The opinion that elephants didn’t belong in circuses started to become popular in the 1960s and ’70s. Traditionally, the baby elephants are taken from their mothers and put into violent training sessions to learn how to perform tricks. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is the largest animal rights organization in the world and recently let out video footage from an investigation which showed that elephants used by Ringling were whipped, beaten and yanked by bullhooks, which is a weapon that resembles a fireplace poker and has a sharp steel hook on one end, behind the curtains before performing.

The circus went on with multiple elephant deaths , Kenny, age 3, and Benjamin, age 4, that caused many lawsuits and the audience to outrage. A 2-year-old Asian elephant, Mike, who was the youngest elephant being held at Ringling Bros. died from elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus. This disease is killing more and more circus elephants and has been connected to the stress of captivity.

When an undercover person from PETA discovered the abuse going on at this circus, the show faced the largest civil penalty ever put against an exhibitor under the Animal Welfare Act. Feld Entertainment, the company who owns Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was forced to pay $270,000 for violations of the AWA going back to 2007, and they had to provide all employees who handle the animals with training and hire a staff member dedicated to the Animal Welfare Act agreement.

The circus company announced it’s last show featuring elephants in May, before fully retiring the animals to their 200 acre conservation center in Polk City, Florida. This conservation center was made by Feld Entertainment in 1995. Elephants were taken out of the show and placed there, where they will spend their days in chains, constantly fearful of the pain from bullhooks and be bred and used as test subjects.

Shortly before the circus realized that the public was no longer okay with elephants being forced to preform, a documentary, “Tyke Elephant Outlaw,” was made. It told the story of an elephant named Tyke, who 20 years ago crushed her trainer and escaped an arena in Honolulu. It was emphasized that this animal could no longer take the abuse from it’s trainer and wanted to escape.

This documentary brought realization to people everywhere, even children were protesting outside of the circuses performances. Ticket sales started to drop as soon as the elephants were retired, and with such a costly performance, it was difficult for the Ringling Bros. to keep up financially with their show. On Jan. 15, Kenneth Feld announced that their last act would be this upcoming May, 2017.

Around the globe, countries have banned wild-animal circuses, including: Mexico, El Salvador, Bolivia, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru. States have banned the use of he cruel weapon used against elephants for disobedience, the bullhook, including: Los Angeles, California; Oakland, California; Richmond, Virginia and Florida. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus company has been called the “saddest show on earth,” it’s abuse towards Asian elephants has caused death and physical damage to the animals,ß and it has rightfully came to an end.