Sayonara Circus! The Demise of Ringling Bros. Circus and What It Means for Farmed Animals

Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Baily Circus had their final show this week in New York. After 146 years of abusing animals for entertainment, the “cruelest show on earth” finally closed its doors. This victory for animal rights advocates is nothing short of historic. I never thought I would live to see this behemoth of entertainment collapses, but a thousand small cuts from a compassionate community brought down a giant.

In May of 2016, Ringling announced that they were going to retire their elephants from the shows. While this in itself was a huge victory, there were still dozens of other animals of other species that would continue to be confined in trucks and train cars only to come out to whips and other devices of submission and pain, forced to perform unnatural and dangerous acts.

Soon after the announcement to retire the elephants, ticket sales took a “dramatic drop” and the company announced full closure later that year. This is fantastic news for the lions, tigers, camels, donkeys, alpacas, kangaroos, horses, and llamas who still made up the miserable animal menagerie at Ringling. No more animals will be breed, taken from their mothers, beaten, and forced to perform for Ringling’s circus. Never again.

While I didn’t directly assist in Ringling’s downfall, other than showing up for some Bay Area protest with activist friends in the last decade, I did help get the ball rolling against the circus in the 1990’s. I was active back then with the group SPAR, Sonoma People for Animal Rights, and I organized our vigorous circus campaign, protesting smaller circuses who came through Sonoma County, CA with a variety of animals.

Dedicated SPAR activists educated circus attendees about the cruelty that animals endure during training and travel. We shot video and got footage of elephants shackled by the foot on just two feet of heavy chain, horses without water in the blazing summer sun, and tigers in their tiny cages pacing back and forth. We would call the authorities and try to get citations issued, showing them footage on our bulky hand-held video cameras as there were no cell phones or wide-spread use of internet then. We even got Rohnert Park, CA. to pass an ordinance banning wild animal entertainment acts in the city limits.

Eventually, we had our own small victory and the circuses stopped coming to Sonoma County.

Soon after, like many in the animal rights community, I shifted my focus to the much larger issue of animal agriculture and farming animals for food. Larger in terms of animals impacted, as there were only a few hundred circus animals in the U.S., but millions of animals killed for food each year. We acknowledged that circus animals didn’t suffer any less, but that we could possibly save more lives by creating a vegan world.

I am now so grateful for the few devoted activists who stuck to the circus issue and I hope they are reveling in this extraordinary victory, as anyone who cares about animals should. They deserve a great deal of praise and thanks for a job well done.

With numerous countries banning the use of animals in traveling acts, zoos, and aquariums, animals abused for entertainment will soon be a shameful relic of a barbaric past. People are beginning to have sympathy for suffering animals forced to perform or confined in amusement parks and this concern is gradually extending to farmed animals as well.

Concern for animals bred and killed for food is on the rise as meat sales are declining. Though our work is far from over, I believe the path forward will bring an awakening as we evolve to become a truly compassionate society where no animal suffers at human hands.

Because of the commitment and courage of dedicated activists, the pillars of animal abuse are falling, with Ringling being one of the first enormous pillars to crumble, and more are sure to follow. Let’s take a moment to celebrate and recognize how monumental this is. With vigilance and veganism, we will see an end to all animal cruelty.


Author: Hope Bohanec

Executive Director, Compassionate Living