The elephants were the central performers for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus for years. Often when the circus came to town, children would line up to watch the elephants unload off the train. Some years, you’d get to watch them paint. And recently, you’d come to the circus an hour early to see where the elephant stay, talk to the handler and watch an elephant paint or do tricks.
Last year, Ringling Bros. announced that the elephants would no longer be performing at the circus. Then in May, the last show with elephants happened. Now all the elephants, and some of their handlers are at Ringling Bros.’ Center for Elephant Conservation. Stephen Payne, the vice president of corporate communications at Feld Entertainment, the company that owns Ringling Bros., jokes, everyone retires to Florida, even elephants, though, “the decision to retire them to Florida was bitter sweet.”
When the circus rolls into town next month, the show will be different. Payne says Ringling Bros. didn’t try to replace the elephants. “The elephants pound for pound were the biggest performers in the show,” he says. Instead, there are other animal and human acts to enjoy. Taba Maluenda gets into a cage with 18 tigers and kisses them. The brother-sister duo Alex and Irina bring out their poodles to do tricks. Nicole Sanders shoots out of a cannon and becomes Nitro Nicole, the human cannonball.
The Danguir Highwire Troupe is Payne’s favorite. “I was on the edge of my seat,” he says. Then he jokes that the circus makes you pay for the whole seat, when you only need the edge.
“The good thing about the circus is everyone in the family will take something away that they liked the best,” he says. “It will not be quiet and boring.”
Like you did when there were elephants, you still can come an hour before to meet the performers, the animals and try on costumes. “It’s a more intimate experience and a way for families to connect with our family,” Payne says.
Just like making the switch to an elephant-free circus, Ringling Bros. is always changing, Payne says. This year it introduced its first app, which goes with its “Out of This World” show, which Austin will get next year.
The elephants still have an important role. Pediatric oncologist Joshua Schiffman is studying their blood to see why it is that the elephants don’t often get cancer.
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey “Circus XTreme”
When: 7:30 p.m. Aug. 24-27; 11:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Aug. 27; 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Aug. 28
Center, 1701 Red River St.
Tickets: $10-$70. Everyone 2 and older must have one.