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Step Right Up to One of These Compassionate, Animal-Free Circuses

Animal-free circuses have all the thrills, chills, and fun that you expect at the big top—but none of the cruelty to animals. Unlike depressed elephants, tigers, and other animals who are forced to perform through beatings and shocks, talented human tightrope walkers, trapeze artists, jugglers, clowns, contortionists, acrobats, fire-eaters, musicians, dancers, and more put on a show for the love of performing.

There is an animal-free circus to suit every taste, including old-fashioned big tops, mini shows in neighborhood parks, and thoroughly modern productions in large venues. Consult this factsheet about animal-free circuses, and check out the following list:

1. Circus Vargas

This traveling circus, based in San Diego, features death-defying stunts, flying aerialists, exhilarating acrobats, and uproarious clowns under a music-filled blue-and-yellow big top.

2. Bindlestiff Family Cirkus

This circus circumnavigates the world, bringing a unique hybrid of vaudeville, burlesque, and sideshow to theaters, clubs, colleges, and festivals.

Bindlestiff Family Circus!

A photo posted by @fdr_library on

3. Circus Center

In 1974, Peggy Snider and Larry Pisoni founded The Pickle Family Circus in the Bay Area. Ten years later, members of the now-iconic circus opened the San Francisco School for Circus Arts, renamed Circus Center in 2001, to train young people for circus acts.

4. Circus Finelli

San Francisco’s off-the-wall Circus Finelli—a “circus gone awry,” in which four unruly female clowns court disaster—has audiences roaring with laughter.

5. Cirque Italia

This traveling circus specializes in a European performance style. Its “Aquatic Spectacular” features a water stage and aquatic-based performances.

6. Circus Luminous

Wise Fool is a Santa Fe–based organization that offers programs, workshops, and classes for young people and adults. For those seeking a more traditional circus experience, the affiliated Circus Luminous features a flying trapeze, elaborate choreography, and a turn-of-the-century look.

7. Cirque Éloize

Based in Québec, this circus weaves traditional thrills—including those of awe-inspiring aerialists, precision jugglers, and graceful acrobatics—into narratives, creating a dramatic, sophisticated blend of theater and circus.

8. Fern Street Circus

This San Diego–based organization offers performances but also teaches the circus arts in after-school programs, bringing families and neighborhoods together to effect social change.

From Saturday #fernstreetcircus #contortion #circus #performance #unitards #pink #pink #lotsofpink

A photo posted by Hanna Denham (@princesslollie) on

9. Flying Fruit Fly Circus

This circus, which offers fantastic performances, also runs Australia’s only full-time circus school for young people.

10. Gregangelo & Velocity Circus Troupe

Hailing from the San Francisco Bay Area, this circus combines daring skill, comedy, dazzling aerials, interactive audience antics, and magic with stunning costumes and music. It also offers aerial classes.

11. Hiccup Circus

This Hawaiian circus, which has been around for two decades now, offers a unique educational program to children and teenagers, especially in isolated rural communities.

Other notable animal-free circuses include:

The smashing success of these animal-free circuses proves that performances don’t need to include animals in order to wow crowds or make money. When you buy a ticket to one of these modern, human-only productions, you’re sending the message that cruel, archaic animal acts don’t sell.

Read more about why we don’t support abusive animal circuses, and sign up for Living E-News to be sent to your inbox once a week.

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  • Iryna says:

    Circuses around the world should all become animal free, animals have just the same rights as us humans!

  • Marcia says:

    In Brazil, it is against the law to keep animals in circus. Yesterday (17/10/2013), a group of pro-animal activists invaded a laboratory and freed 178 Beagles from the place. They were protesting outside all afternoon and the bosses didn;t talk to them to make a deal and free the animails, so they had no choice. 😀

  • Marina says:

    I am very surprised why governments don’t introduce rules to stop that cruelty. Actually, governments do nothing to stop it. People talk about “RIGHTS” so much and animals are still tortured in this horrible way.
    People probably don’t know how animals are treated in the circuses. Children MUST know about it. And it seems to me that animal trainers really enjoy animal torturing. It gives them big pleasure.

  • Marion Zehrer says:

    Stop these unhumane behavior

  • Hyacinthe Balke says:

    This is ridiculous and needs too stop!! I would do whatever it took to do so! How can I help?

  • SOS Circuses Animzls says:

    Cirque Firmin Bouglione (Belgique): comment laisser des cirques en libre circulation où les dompteurs du cirque membres de la direction ne font pas capables d’assumer le bien être des animaux, les mettent en danger mais aussi le public et les riverains: il y a deux ans ont laissé un lion s’échapper à Verviers (les gens du cirque et notamment le presentateur nous insultaient parce que on était sur le parking où se trouvait le cirque Firmin Bouglione et qu’ils ne voulaient pas qu’on filme ou qu’on photographie, … ils nous menaçaient de nous frapper si on restait pas loin de la scène … et toujours dans le même cirque à Mons le 12 février … toujours les mâles scènes de panique avec un lama qui a fuit sa condition … Que font les bourgmestres? Que font les autorités? C’est scandaleux de détenir ces animaux dans ces conditions, de se permettre avec l’argent de se “louer” des numéros clefs en mains comme on louerait une vulgaire automobile … le tout en mentant au public, aux autorités, … Il faut faire stopper ces tortionnaires et gangsters de grands chemins … Ces négriers hors la loi qui ont fuit leur pays d’origine tellement ils y ont et auraient des problèmes (fiscalement, humainement, … administrativement …). … Je suis extrêmement choquée et refuse d’être en tant que jeune maman d’être muette face à ces attitudes qui relèvent non seulement des associations de défense des animaux mais aussi d’Amnesty International !!! Mireille de Weme

  • Stella says:

    I think the circuses that are animal free are a great idea circuses are so cruel to animals they use whips and harmful stuff to their skin and I saw a video where this guy will hit them and tell them to make these poor baby elephants to SCREAM and I couldn’t surviv 1 minute into the video

  • sandra says:

    The last time that I was at a zoo in 1962, what I saw what they did to male lion, the keepers had pull out his canines(their reason was cause he could bite people) and he was licking the floor because he had no water to drink and it was at night, right then I said I will never go to another zoo. And I haven’t been since. I detest the way the zoos and circus are handling the animals. They are innocent and should be protected andbe free with no cages, bars, whips, or chains.

  • TexasMeg Torelli says:

    I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Cirque de Soleil and had no idea that they were an animal free circus! Wonderful!!

  • Claire says:

    Teatro Zinzanni is in Seattle and San Francisco and they don’t have animals either. I haven’t been, but my parents have and they had an awesome time.

  • Matt says:

    Circuses around the world should all become animal free, animals have just the same rights as us humans!

  • annie says:

    Boycott circuses using animals. The traines are sadistic,evil cowards, lacking compassion. I hope karma ensures what goes around comes around. Shame on everyone who believe animals are here for our entertainment and financial gain.

  • Catalina McLoughlin says:

    The circus need to stop using animals , it is totally unnatural what they make animals do and the abuse the get to that point the most wasted and, I thing circus would be more entertaining just showing what people are able to do w/ there bodies easier to go from place to place .

  • Brandy Ashburn says:

    That’s right. God did not intend for us to live this way with the animals. It says right in the bible that his plan was for us to live in harmony with the animals; they were never mean for food, clothing, or entertainment. It is up to us to lead by example and hope that others will follow. If they choose not to, that too will be judged.

  • iamlove says:

    please make the circuses animal free. that is the height of cruel and greed to hit them like that. they cant talk. what if the roles were reversed. how would they like being beat the stuffin out of and upon like that. that is just cruel and it hurt me much. i am praying for that to be outlawed. thats just cruel. no more.

  • sarah humphrey says:

    i think that this is a really good idea. I am doing a research project about animal rights and this is what we need instead of practicaly killing the animals that are in them

  • gigi says:

    i went to a cirque du soleil show in winter with my family once. it was beautiful and definatley better than any animal circus ive ever been to.

  • sadeyescourteney says:

    Breaks my heart to think of all those beautiful animals that have been abused and harmed.
    My parents ALWAYS refused to take me and my siblings to the cirucs and they were vocal as to why..the cruel way that the animals were at times treated.
    I will also refuse to any children I amy have to the circus in case it is a circus that is cruel to animals.
    Thank you peta for getting the message out there….and educationg people : )

  • Anika says:

    I love Cirque du Soleil! I’ve seen Dralion and Alegria live. I have only been to one circus with animals before. I didn’t realize, because they didn’t really mention them on any of the posters or pamphlets, or when we were buying tickets. They had a group of adorable ponies… But the whole time I was worrying about how they were treated. I didn’t even know about Ringling or any of the animals who do get abused by circuses. You shouldn’t go to a circus with animals, regardless of they are treated. They still have to live in trailers, and travel around the continent. It isn’t fair to them.

  • Leighann says:

    Cicuses really need to stop beating the animals.. they wouldn’t want someone else to beat them. And then when the animals go crazy, they wonder why!! Even from a young age, i was against animals at circuses.. but now that i see the images and pictures i really see and know how truly bad it is!! Wowww, IT NEEDS TO STOPP

  • chelsie says:

    do all the circuses treat there animals bad? like the ringling brothers? cuz i love the animals but unless i no how there treated for sure i dont wanna go i love the circus animals but if they had them were they were treated nice then i wouldnt mind…

  • loveallGod'screatures says:

    Bravo!! Animals need our love and care. Let’s educate all humans now and in the future in every way we can to treat ALL of God’s creatures on earth with dignity, compassion, understanding and LOVE. We don’t need them for nourishment or to entertain us. They enlighten us and show us strength and give our lives meaning. We are animal caretakers, guardians. Let God see us this way!!

  • sonia castillo says:

    I think circuses dont need use animals for theirs shows. the circuses are very very cruel please dont use animals only for enterteiment people