Ringling Brothers Circus - The Best Show on Earth?

Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Present Zing, Zang, Zoom
Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Present Zing, Zang, Zoom

My girls had never been to a circus, so when our generous neighbor came over with free tickets to “The Greatest Show on Earth”, I couldn’t pass them up. I remember checking in the past when Ringling Brothers came to San Diego and I was appalled at how expensive the tickets were. I was very excited to take my daughters, 3- and 4-years old; I love to see the excitement on their beautiful faces when we do something new.

I will save my opinion of the show for just a minute and just give some quick background information about Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey and their animal care.

Ringling Bros Animal Care

Ringling Brothers is committed to animal care and conservation. They employ an expert staff of veterinary doctors and animal care specialists who travel along with the animals and provide regular examinations and vaccinations to the animals.

Ringling Brothers is also involved in the conservation of the Asian elephant, an endangered species. The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation was established in 1995 and is a global leader in the reproduction, research and retirement of the Asian elephant.

As for the animals on tour, they are all provided with healthy, nourishing meals that are shipped fresh to each city Ringling Bros. visits.

The relationship between animals and humans is built on mutual respect, trust and affection according to Ringling Bros.. Their training methods are based on reward and repetition. The trainers teach the animals routines that show off their natural abilities and their beauty, as well as their distinctive behaviors. In many locations that the show travels to, they offer visitors the chance to see their animals close up and witness the strong bond of trust and affection that the animals have for their trainers and handlers; this Animal Open House did not occur here in Miami.

The Show

We had a really great time at the show. We sat in the upper balcony level, which was pretty darn high, but it wasn’t bad because the arena’s seating is very steep and we had a clear view straight-on to the middle of all the action.

I watched my daughters’ faces just as much as I watched the show, if not more. Their faces just lit up - that's what I love about doing these type of things with them!

The show started at 7:30, which is normally their bed time, so they were excited to be staying up late, too! All of the performances were entertaining, from the clowns to the jugglers and the elephant-riding ladies to the tutu-wearing dancing dogs!

The Tigers

Toward the end were the tigers. There must have been about 10 tigers in the ring with one trainer and his long whip. This is where things went downhill for me. No, no one got mauled! I really watched the tiger performance and I did not like what I was seeing. My oldest daughter asked me what the long black thing was that the trainer was hitting the tigers with and why he was hitting them. I told her it was just how the tigers knew what to do for the show, or something vague like that.

Meanwhile, I was observing the trainer whacking these gigantic, beautiful, ferocious creatures with his whip and they would jump down off their stands very submissively. The tigers actually appeared (to me) to be scared of the trainer. Now if the tiger didn’t do what was being asked of it, a “helper” would poke the tiger with some sort of rod from outside the netting of the ring and give it a little shove. Some of the tigers sat there with mouths open in a manner that looked angry.

Perhaps that was part of the “act”, but I wasn’t sure. The part where they acted scared of the trainer didn’t seem at all like an act. It made me think that if, during the show, they acted that way, it must mean that outside of the show, when training, they must get beat. Bad. I felt badly for the poor tigers and I secretly wished one would teach the trainer a lesson.

I suddenly realized why there were so many people protesting outside of the arena prior to the show.  I sympathized.  I don’t think I’ll become a protester, but I do think that that was my last visit to the best show on earth. 

Have you been to The Greatest Show on Earth?

  • Yes and it was great!
  • Yes and it was just okay.
  • Yes, but when I was little.
  • Nope, no desire.
  • No, but I want to go.
  • Other (leave comment with answer below)
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Comments 22 comments

theherbivorehippi profile image

theherbivorehippi 6 years ago from Holly, MI

I'm glad you noticed what you did. The animals for this particular circus perform out of fear. Don't let them fool you that they treat the animals well. More elephants die under their care than you can imagine out of neglect. They are hooked and whipped and terrified into their performances. Not many people take the time to do the research or are observant enough to notice what you did but the protesters have done their research and I have been one of them! Great Hub and good for you for noticing what most people don't.


breakfastpop profile image

breakfastpop 6 years ago

I went to the circus a few times, long before I realized that perhaps these animals were being mistreated. I have since lost my enthusiasm.


Lily Rose profile image

Lily Rose 6 years ago from East Coast Author

@ theherbivorehippi - thanks for visiting and yes, I'm kind of glad I noticed what I did, too. It really affected me and stuck with me. I'm glad that my girls got to enjoy their first circus and that they are too young to notice what I did. They can make up their own mind when it's time.

@ bpop - good morning! Yup, I'm with you - my enthusiasm is gone. I will not go back, that's for sure.


dusanotes profile image

dusanotes 6 years ago from Windermere, FL

That was really a great Hub, Lily. When I went with our boys and their grandparents I was particularly interested in the flying trapeze artists, the lion tamer with real live lions, and the elephants. Your photo shows seven or eight elephants with front legs up high on the backs of the ones ahead - what a feat! I've "noticed what you did" and it's all good, Lily Rose. Keep up the good work. Don White


Lily Rose profile image

Lily Rose 6 years ago from East Coast Author

Thanks for stopping by, Don. I'm not sure what you mean by "noticed what you did", but I'm glad you enjoyed it!


mike 6 years ago

these basterds hurt their animals not train them like what their bullshit video about an elephant reserve center says they do.their show is cruel and heartless and has no buisness in todays society. their commercials fail to tell the truth about the savages that run this buisness. when they come to my town with their scum i will stand against it with protest until this evil deed that some call entertainment is demolished


Susan Oldershaw 6 years ago

Cruelty is not entertainment. These animals are forced to perform unnatural acts. They are tied down with huge ropes and beaten with the bullhook . So, basically they are performing out of fear. They are transported in horrible conditions. They are very social beings and their lives are basically stolen from them for profit. They are not given proper care and many have died from TB.


Lily Rose profile image

Lily Rose 6 years ago from East Coast Author

That is just awful to hear. I certainly did get the sense that they were performing under fear. Where does your knowledge come from? I sure do hope that it is not true...


hislop67 6 years ago

just saw the absolutely sickening images of a terrified baby elephant being beaten and abused to force it to do tricks people who want to go or have been GET EDUCATED these animals are abused and you are funding it!!!


Kate 6 years ago

I went last year :( but I didn't know any better! now after researching into how RIngling Brothers REALLY treats the animals they have in their care I WILL NEVER SUPPORT AN ANIMAL CIRCUS AGAIN. They actually have the audacity to call themselves a sanctuary!

It's Cirque Du Soleil all the way. How on earth do people think these so called trainers get those beautiful, wild (I repeat WILD) animals to preform completely unnatural acts ("tricks"). Acts they would never do in a million years if not for fear of being bull-hooked or beaten? Not to mention the sad, depressing life they lead when they're not being abused and/or preforming, chained up going from town to town.


Lily Rose profile image

Lily Rose 6 years ago from East Coast Author

Yup, that was me - excited for my kids to see a circus, but ignorant to how the animals are treated. My daughter just asked me the other day, in fact, if the circus was coming back soon and I just changed the subject - luckily, it worked!


BeKind profile image

BeKind 6 years ago

Ringling Bros. does not treat their animals well.

Look at the photo of the elephants in Lily's post...how could any human being think that a two thousand pound elephant enjoys dancing on it's hind legs, or that a tiger likes jumping through rings of fire.

What happens to these animals after the show is over? They are put into tiny little cages and loaded into trucks. That is how these animals spend their life.

Please educate yourselves about the circus, and about how animals like elephants and tigers are supposed to live.

Please help the animals and "don't" support the circus.

A video from animal defenders league about circus life for the animals.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZVsuGOpvUxc


Lily Rose profile image

Lily Rose 6 years ago from East Coast Author

Thank you, BeKind, for your comment and the link. I hate that people are misled and I hate that my kids love the circus so much (even though I don't think I'll be taking them again) and I just can't tell them how I really feel. I cringe every time I remember that feeling that I got when we attended this circus and I saw the treatment.


Pamela 6 years ago

I went a few times, & even took my grand-daughter with me. The circus is back in town this weekend (10-3-2010) However, no one from this family will be going. I refuse to have anyone watch an animals that feels miserable perform just so these jackasses can earn $$$ from the innocents suffering!!

I wish I had room for all of them, so I could free the animals. However, knowing ppl. who are so hellbent on hurting an animal, they'd go find another innocent to torture. I'm gonna want to be present when G_D judges these jerks!


Jen 5 years ago

I was actually just researching the treatment of the animals at Ringling brothers because I was thinking of taking my son. I don't know one way or the other whether they use inhuman training methods or not. I guess it also depends on your definition of inhumane. I will say that several posts comment on the cruelty of animals doing "unnatural" acts. As if that in itself is cruel. I disagree. Animals do things all the time that are "unnatural" and enjoy doing them! People jump out of airplanes, dogs jump through hoops, horses dance around. Some of these animals are taught to do these things by what I consider cruel methods, but I know that many of these animals do it because of the bond and respect they have for their trainer and because they enjoy having a JOB. I believe strongly that any domesticated animal is not really happy unless they are challenged physically and mentally. They aren't just trying to survive everyday like they would be in the wild. Since their physical needs are taken care of they need something to challenge them. I didn't actually see the Ringling brothers circus. But I imagine a possible alternative way to view what you describe in the article is that, these animals are much bigger. The whip and the prodding could be viewed as an extension of the trainers arms. The whip might not have even touched the tigers, and if they did maybe just lightly as a reminder of who is alpha. The prodding wasn't necessarily hard either, it may have served as a reminder also to obey the alpha. It is important for these animals to view the human as alpha because they could kill him easily. Think about how all the nature shows and how the big cats act toward each other. They swipe at each other (whip) to get the other one to move where they want(away from them and their food/cub.) The other cats also cower and put their ears back to show submission to the alpha. That is the language of the big cats and how they communicate submission and respect. The alpha has to maintain control or the others will attack him. I also believe that it is possible to be alpha over such a large animal without using cruel methods like beating and starving, but you do have to be firm, alert and use touches to get your message across. Those touches don't need to hurt but they do need to be felt. Just like a person can calm and train a 150 pound dog that is very dominant without hurting him. I believe some circus' probably do use cruel methods, but perhaps ringling bro isn't one of them? Sometimes it's about understanding what you are seeing and changing your perspective to the animals point of view. I think i will go and see what I observe. What I wrote is just a possible different way to interpret what happened. I do agree it is definitely possible they are mistreated though.


Lily Rose profile image

Lily Rose 5 years ago from East Coast Author

Jen ~ Than you so much for your feedback. I am certainly not out to try and get everyone to boycott the circus or anything like that; I simply felt the need to write about my experience and feelings about it. You could certainly be right. I am sure that there are some circuses out there that absolutely treat the animals cruely and some that don't. I agree that the animals do have to know who the alpha leader is, just as with any household pet, but there are good ways of doing that and there are bad ways of going about it. Also, there's sumbission and there's flat out fear - they are totally different and significant...fear is what I saw (or should I say felt) from these animals. You know, like a dog who's repeatedly beaten does whenever someone holds their arm/hand up in a manner that makes them feel like they're about to get hit? Kind of like that, but worse. I do appreciate you trying to see it from the other side and for the sake of the animals I hope you are right. If you do take your son, I'd love to hear your opinion afterwards! Thanks again for your comment.


Jainem 5 years ago

In recent years this animal abuse for entertainment has been documented in testimony, videos, and pictures in a 2009 federal trial, you can see irrefutable proof of this inhumane treatment. These animals are chained up and live in a boxcar for up to 60 hours, and then limp off for their next performance in the next town. This inhumane treatment continues for the elephant’s life time. http://www.bornfreeusa.org/a1a6a_highlight_c.php

These pictures show the General Manager of The Center for Elephant Conservation, he has trained Ringling’s elephants for more than 25 years, using these kinds of torture training methods on baby elephants to force them to learn circus tricks. These sessions happen daily, are frequent and can last months or years, for as long as it takes to break them.

http://www.ringlingbeatsanimals.com/bound-babies.a...

For over 35 years Dr. Joyce Poole is a world renowned and respected expert on elephants and their behavior, she has written extensively on the mistreatment of circus elephants on her website “Elephant Voices.” You can read her expert opinion about the behaviors the elephants are exhibiting in this one video when they are being struck by Ringling trainers as they wait backstage before entering the circus ring.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ECspj0daAlE

http://www.elephantvoices.org/dmdocuments_open/Joy...

Ringling likes to boast of their 24 elephant’s births since 1992, the 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation facility, dedicated to the reproduction research and retirement of Asian elephants where they get to roam to their hearts content. They are very convincing, it is easy to walk away certain that they care about and provide humane treatment for their elephants.

Except, they don’t tell you about their 28 elephants who have died since 1992, many prematurely from fatal foot diseases caused from the circus life they are forced to live. Ringling Veterinarians’ records from that 2009 federal trial show that almost all of their adult elephants and many of the younger ones suffer with foot diseases that are fatal. Many are lame and have arthritis from performing in thousands of shows. Conservation of an endangered species is not breeding more elephants to replace the ones that die young so the show can go on. None of their elephants will ever be returned to the wild.

http://www.bornfreeusa.org/a1a6a_courtdocuments.ph...

We consider our dog a family member and we would never allow anyone to beat and abuse her with a fire place poker or shock her with a Hot Shot to make her learn tricks to entertain us, and in fact if Ringling was caught training their dogs like they do their elephants and tigers they would be arrested, jailed and fined for animal abuse.


healthknut 4 years ago

Ringling has been under attack by animal rights groups for decades for their abuse and horrid treatment of animals. Follow this link for the truth. http://www.ringlingbeatsanimals.com/


loseraspie profile image

loseraspie 3 years ago from USA

Well said Lily Rose. Once one of their elephants was thirsty and Ringling Bros. refused to stop and give it a drink of water. The poor elephant was dead when they got to their next destination. Somebody should beat the Ringling Bros. Staff like that and see how they like it.


Bob 23 months ago

I hate the circus they are so cruel to the animals


Jerry 23 months ago

Someone should go treat them how they treat the animas


Lily Rose profile image

Lily Rose 23 months ago from East Coast Author

Agreed. Thanks for visiting.

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    Lily Rose791 Followers
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    We all have opinions. I like to think I have a good moral compass and that's where my opinions originate. I hope you enjoy my thoughts.



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