Animal Protection > Worldwide Actions > United Kingdom

PRESS RELEASE - 21.08.09

Circus Violence will continue despite circus worker sacking

Secret video shows circus elephants suffering at the hands of the trainer

Animal Defenders International (ADI) today rejected claims by the Great British Circus that the sacking of a worker would stop violence towards their circus animals.

The circus states that they do not condone animal cruelty, however ADI's investigation into the abuse of circus elephants has shown that it was not just the elephant keeper who was responsible for the violence. The footage shows the presenter, who works with the elephants in the ring during the show, also hitting the animals. The circus has flatly ignored this fact, which means that this shocking maltreatment could continue unchecked. This cruelty was observed on just five separate days indicating that the situation could be much worse over time.

Watch the disturbing video here:

Responding to ADI accusations, the Great British Circus has admitted for the first time ever that they use negative reinforcement to control the animals, showing that they condone the violence that ADI witnessed.

The Great British Circus began touring the UK in February 2009 with two Asian and one African elephant. Even though the Government promised to ban "certain non-domesticated animals" from travelling circuses in 2006, DEFRA (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) allowed the elephants, Sonja, Vana Mana and Delhi, to be brought into the country from Germany, signalling a major backward step for circus animal protection.

It is the responsibility of DEFRA to enforce the Animal Welfare Act which protects animals from 'unnecessary suffering' so we urge them to take decisive action. The elephants were imported from Germany but were abused in the UK so action should be taken by the UK to shield these animals from further abuse. ADI calls on DEFRA to confiscate these animals to keep them from suffering at the hands of the circus.

Jan Creamer, ADI Chief Executive, said: "Making a token gesture to sack a temporary worker is not going to keep these elephants from harm. The circus breeds a culture of violence and confinement. They even admitted that they use negative reinforcement which shows that this cruelty is a part of the life of a circus."

"In the name of entertainment these vulnerable animals are beaten, poked with metal hooks, shackled for hours on end each day, and confined to transporter each week where they are kept for many hours when the circus travels to its next site."

"We urge DEFRA to act quickly to take these animals away from this torment and the Government must confirm their commitment to animal welfare by banning the use of wild animals in travelling circuses once and for all."

ADI obtained footage from a camera hidden inside the circus elephant tent, which shows an astonishingly high level of casual violence in just a few days of observations. Incidences include elephants being hit in the face with a metal elephant hook, a broom and a pitchfork, a worker cruelly twisting an elephant's tail, and the frightened animals retreating and crying out when struck or hooked.

The ADI team filmed two elephant hooks being used, a long metal hook was used to hit an elephant across the face during training and a smaller one, concealed in the palm of the hand was used in the ring, unseen by the unsuspecting audience. ADI footage in slow motion shows how the hook was used on the elephants as they performed and other film shows the elephants reacting and sometimes crying out when the hook is used.

Jan Creamer continued :" It is also not clear when the circus worker was sacked which we urge them to clarify."

In addition to the casual violence, the elephants were also limited for long periods of the day in a small tent and chained tightly every night for up to eleven hours with only enough room to take one step forward or backwards.

When the circus moved to a new location, the elephants were confined to their cramped transporter and forced to wait until their tent was erected, resulting in many hours being shut away. During the move from Watford to Bushey on 19 July, the elephants were kept inside the transporters for seven and a half hours -though the distance travelled was just five and a half miles.

ADI is also horrified at the level of disturbed, abnormal behaviour exhibited by the elephants such as rocking, swaying and head bobbing. These pointless, repetitive movements often seen in certain captive animals is known as stereotypic behaviour. Sonja, a wild-caught African elephant, was observed for 11 hours and spent nearly 40% of this time displaying stereotypic behaviour, and the two Asian elephants also showed similar movements. Animal behaviourists believe that this shows that the animal is suffering and is not able to cope with its situation.

Over 80% of the public want to see a ban on wild animals in travelling circuses and over 80 MPs signed a motion calling on the Government to ban wild animal acts and to strictly regulate the use of domesticated species. However, the Government has still failed to keep its pledge to ban certain animals from circuses.

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