Secret video exposes UK circus elephant suffering
In August 2009, Animal Defenders International (ADI) released shocking footage from behind the scenes at the Great British Circus, showing violence and confinement of circus elephants, resulting in an elephant keeper being sacked.
The results of an undercover investigation by ADI showed the animals being hit in the face, being kept chained and barely able to move for up to 11 hours a day, and displaying disturbed, abnormal behaviour.
Responding to ADI accusations, the circus admitted for the first time ever that they used negative reinforcement to control the animals. Though they sacked one of the workers, the circus still failed to address the issues of the elephant trainer abusing the animals or the confinement. In addition, the presenter, who on the video hits an elephant in the face and uses a hook on the animals, remained with the circus. The circus had also failed to address the fact that the elephants were chained for up to eleven hours every day.
The circus, which had been touring the UK since February 2009, featured two Asian and one African elephant. Despite the Government’s 2006 promise to ban “certain non-domesticated animals” from travelling circuses, Defra (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) allowed the elephants, Sonja, Vana Mana and Delhi, to be brought into the country by the Great British Circus to tour, signalling a major backward step for circus animal protection.
ADI secured footage from a camera concealed inside the elephant tent of the Great British Circus, which shows a staggeringly 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.
Jan Creamer, ADI Chief Executive, said: “This is not about one bad apple. This is about a culture of violence and confinement. In the name of entertainment these elephants are beaten, jabbed with hooks, chained up for hours every day, and pushed into a metal box each week where they remain for hours on end whilst the circus moves to another site.”
“The circus themselves have admitted that they use negative reinforcement which shows that violence towards animals is a part of the life of a circus. This is simply unacceptable and it is the fault of the Government who have failed to fulfil their commitment to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses, ignoring the evidence and the recommendations of all major animal welfare groups. It is time for the Government to act decisively and end this suffering once and for all.”
The ADI team filmed two elephant hooks being brutally used, a long metal hook was used to hit an elephant across the face during training and a smaller one which was concealed in the palm of the hand and 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.
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, 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 was 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 94.5% 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.
Jan Creamer continued: “This latest ADI investigation shows how animals like elephants suffer in the travelling circus. Given the circumstances of constant travel, temporary accommodation and small spaces, the use of these animals in circuses cannot be justified. The public wants to see a ban, Parliament wants a ban, animal protection groups want a ban. Surely, it is time for the Government to take action to stop this suffering right now.”