Animal Care FAQ

People often ask, "How do animals live at The Greatest Show On Earth®?" Here are the answers to frequently asked questions about this all-important subject.

Q : How does Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey®care for its animals?
A: Because animals are an integral part of what we present to our audiences, Ringling Bros.® provides the highest standards of care to our animal performers 365 days a year. Our staff consists of animal experts who devote their lives to living, working with and caring for animals. They meet the animals' physical needs with nutritious foods and regular veterinary attention and their mental needs by providing a stimulating environment. In all aspects of animal care and safety, Ringling Bros. exceeds all federal animal welfare standards set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the Animal Welfare Act.

Q : What are the conditions where the animals live at each arena?
A: We pride ourselves on the level of care and the healthy environment we provide for all our animal performers. In arenas where space permits, our animal facility is outdoors and in the full view of the public. Each animal is groomed daily. The entire stable area, as well as individual animal stalls, is kept clean around the clock. We often provide guided tours of our facility for animal experts and media.

Q : What are the traveling conditions for the animals?
A: Ringling Bros. operates the largest private train network in the United States. Every traveling species has custom-made traveling cars, and our traveling animals are under constant supervision. On longer train rides, the caravan stops at scheduled intervals to provide the animals time to exercise. In the event of an emergency, we have evacuation procedures in place. Our trains and housing facilities are routinely inspected by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and exceed all federal guidelines.

Q : How much time do your animals spend performing?
A: Just an hour or two on performance days. An average day in the life of a Ringling Bros. animal includes feeding, training, rehearsal and play. For the most part, our animals spend more than half of the day eating, sleeping and socializing with other animals.

Q : How are the animals trained to perform their routines?
A: Our animals are great performers, because their routines are tailored to each animal’s natural abilities and individual preferences which we observe during their playtime. Reinforced through a system of reward and repetition, these abilities and behaviors are linked together on cue which ultimately becomes the routine that you see at a Ringling Bros. Circus.] 

Q : What happens to the animals when they are too old to perform?
A: Of the animals you see performing with Ringling Bros., some belong to us, and others join us for a specific amount of time and are owned by private individuals. When an animal reaches retirement age while living with us, Ringling Bros. finds healthy and stimulating environments that provide excellent care for the remainder of their lives. Our Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Center for Elephant Conservation® is a shining example. Our elephants spend their "golden years" with our herd in Polk County, Florida, under the watchful eye of animal care experts. We also have a companion program where a retired Ringling Bros. elephant will be selected to live at a zoo or facility and] help these communities maintain social herds for their existing elephants. As of 2001, retired Ringling Bros. elephants now make their homes at The Phoenix Zoo and The Niabi Zoo. Many of our big cats retire to Wildlife on Easy Street, a sanctuary located in Tampa, Florida, that is home to 23 species and subspecies of wild cats. 

Q : Is it true that animals, especially elephants, have a longer life span in captivity?
A: Indeed it is. In the wild, elephants are threatened by predators, hunters, and starvation due to a dwindling natural habitat. The elephants at Ringling Bros. are assured a lifetime of veterinary care, nutritious meals and a clean, safe home. The average life expectancy for elephants is 45 years old but Ringling Bros. has 10 elephants over the age of 45 including three retired elephants, over the age of 60.  We think this is because of our elephants receive excellent veterinary care, nutritious food, regular activity and for those elephants touring with The Greatest Show On Earth, the mental stimulation of performing. 

Q : At what age does a young elephant perform?
A: Calves born under the care of Ringling Bros. remain with their natural mothers until old enough to be properly weaned, usually 2 years. Some young elephantsmay tour with the circus, while others may stay at the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation. In either case, young elephants have opportunities for social interaction with other elephants, while developing positive connections with trainers and handlers that lay the groundwork for performing. 

Q : How does Ringling Bros. feel about the regulation of performing animals?
A: We welcome regulation, because it protects the well-being of all animals. There are many federal animal welfare statutes and state and local animal cruelty laws in place to protect performing animals and prosecute those who neglect or mistreat them. As a standard-bearer for the circus industry, Ringling Bros. contributes to the public lawmaking process by sharing our expertise with public officials.

Q : How does Ringling Bros. feel about local legislation banning the use of animal acts in some towns?
A: We believe that these bans are unnecessary and take away a treasured part of the circus experience that patrons tell us they support and love. (Fortunately, such communities are the exception, not the rule.) By banning performing animals, the town is effectively saying that our experts are not fit to handle the animals they have devoted their lives to caring for. We can't say it enough: Ringling Bros. loves animals as much as you do!

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