Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus

Behind the glitz and glamour of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus lies a world of suffering. Ringling’s animal-care history is riddled with USDA violations and penalties. Videotape and testimony from former Ringling trainers and circus employees reveal that force and abusive training methods are common behind-the-scenes.

Although Ringling Bros. no longer features elephants in performances, the circus continues to transport tigers and other wild animals thousands of miles stuffed inside transport cages, and to force animals to perform tricks on demand.

Ringling Bros. pays record fine! In November 2011, Feld Entertainment, the owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, agreed to pay a $270,000 fine to settle allegations that it violated federal animal welfare laws in its handling of elephants, tigers, zebras and other animals. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the fine was the largest ever against a circus! The alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act include elephants forced to perform when they were ill.


Disturbing photos from elephant training sessions. In December 2009, never-before-seen photographs from elephant training sessions were published. The photos (click here), taken by a former elephant handler at Ringling’s breeding farm in central Florida, document how trainers forcibly separate elephant calves from their mothers, and cruelly force baby elephants to learn tricks using ropes and bullhooks.

At least 30 Ringling elephants, including four babies, have died since 1992. 4-year-old Benjamin drowned in a pond as he tried to move away from a trainer poking him with a bullhook. 3-year-old Kenny was forced to perform even though he was sick; he died shortly after a performance in Jacksonville. In August 2004, Ringling killed an 8-month-old elephant named Riccardo after he fractured both hind legs when he fell off a circus pedestal.


Each year during Ringling Bros.’ tour of Florida, ARFF activists in Miami, West Palm Beach, Orlando and in other cities spend long hours showing videos, handing out flyers, and making sure the behind-the-scenes story of the animals is heard.

The Greatest Show on Earth is in town at the American Airlines Arena, but not everyone is pleased that the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus is back. ARFF, the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida, has serious issues with how the big top treats their animals…. “Elephants and other animals in the circus suffer routine physical and psychological abuse,” said ARFF Communications Director Don Anthony. “Our message to the public: if you are opposed to cruelty to animals, boycott the circus.”
— The Huffington Post, January 9, 2012

As his family stood in the cold, drizzling rain outside AmericanAirlines Arena, waiting to see the new Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus show Friday night, 14-year-old George Fuentes stood transfixed by a protester’s DVD. It showed circus elephants being whipped by trainers. The video was part of an exhibit by the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida. ”It’s horrible what they did. I don’t feel like watching the circus anymore,” said George, who lives in Miami.
— Miami Herald, January 5, 2008


In May 2016, elephants with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus performed their final shows. Ringling’s elephants will be kept at the inappropriately named Center for Elephant Conservation in Polk County, Florida. The facility is not a sanctuary, but it is a good thing that the elephants will no longer be transported across the country, chained in rail cars and trucks. ARFF will continue to call on the circus to end all animal acts.

Animal Rights Foundation of Florida
1431 N Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304

Promoting respect and compassion for animals in Florida has been the mission of the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida since 1989.

The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.