Wisconsin voices speak up on the future of animals in the circus

For the first time in five years, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will return to performing, but it will be without animals.
Updated: May. 31, 2022 at 10:25 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - For the first time in five years, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey will return to performing, but it will be without animals. The move is a change to a 150-year-old show before 2017, and while the show holds a key place in the history of the circus, people at Circus World do not anticipate the circus world to change in lockstep.

“Purely a decision of their enterprise, as goes Ringling Brothers, does not mean as goes the rest of the circus world,” said Circus World Director Scott O’Donnell.

According to Circus World, the Ringling Show spent time between tour seasons in Baraboo during the 19th and 20th centuries. Now, the location is home to a museum and event venue detailing the history of the circus and pieces of circus memorabilia through the decades while hosting circus shows. O’Donnell respects the creative decision and is happy to see the Ringling Bros. return but does not see the move drastically changing the circus at large.

“Circus animals have been part of circus performances almost since their inception,” said O’Donnell.

But others hope acts across the world follow suit.

“It’s about time, thank you very much, and we couldn’t be happier,” said the president of the board at Alliance for Animals, Mary Telfer. “It’s good when someone big, like Ringling Brothers, announces this, and I just think kids don’t need to see animals get bullied.”

People at Circus World say the collaboration of animals and people in the circus is an age-old tradition that can continue as long as animals receive the care they deserve.

“As long as they can be presented and cared for in a very compassionate and thoughtful manner, continuing that relationship between man and animal is a respectful decision for other enterprises to make,” said O’Donnell.

The Ringling Brothers announced earlier in May the show will return in September of 2023.

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