Posted: 5 October 2012. Updated: 13 February 2014
The full extent of the suffering of three elephants touring with the Great British Circus in 2009 has been revealed following the release of inspection reports and related documents to ADI.
The reports highlight the need for the government to press ahead with its promised ban on wild animals in circuses with renewed urgency and not to proceed with its proposed licensing system which will fail to protect performing animals in the UK.
In May 2009, ADI exposed the shocking abuse inflicted on the three elephants that were touring with the Great British Circus. Animals were hit in the face by both their trainer and keeper with a metal elephant hook, a broom and a pitchfork; they were kept chained and barely able to move for up to 11 hours a day; and they displayed disturbed, abnormal behaviour. As a result of our investigation the elephants were sent packing after just one season and a public consultation was held with a resounding 94.5% supporting a ban on wild animal acts and the then Labour Government promising a ban.
Raised in one of the reports was the “potential risk of herniation”, as discussed with the circus, as a result of requiring elephants to ‘dog sit’. The report goes on to state that “This is not a normal posture for an elephant and places huge pressure on the diaphragm and perineum”; it is recommended that the elephants not be asked to do this.
However, the most disturbing finding from the reports is the shocking extent to which Delhi’s health was compromised. The inspector stated that she was “chronically and obviously lame” and “should not be expected to do anything other than gentle daily exercise” until her condition was diagnosed. She also had a chronic abscess which “should be seen by a veterinary surgeon to reassess the condition as soon as possible”. Despite this the circus disregarded the advice and Delhi continued to perform, resulting in the inspector commenting that “we cannot rely on any verbal agreements in future. We may need to serve you with a notice to ensure that the welfare of this animal is protected”.
This is not the first time that the Great British Circus has not been true to its word – at a presentation in the House of Commons earlier in 2009, the circus told MPs that there were “no chains in our elephant tent”. Although no evidence of chaining was subsequently found when the RSPCA and local officials inspected the tent, our investigation provided the proof.
Due to her condition, Animal Health commented that Delhi may “suffer pain during transport” and they allowed her to leave the circus to return to her winter quarters stating in a later report “That does not mean we are content for this animal to be transported again in future”. They continued “Our intention therefore if this animal returns to the UK is to serve you and the keeper and or owner with a notice…preventing transport of this animal and its use in any performance”. An indication of the seriousness of the matter is given in the closing sentence: “We will contact our colleagues in Germany to ensure they take any action they feel is appropriate such as preventing transport of an unfit animal”.
Sonja and Vana Mana are currently performing, with the same trainer, at Circus Benneweis. Just weeks ago, they escaped in rush hour in Copenhagen before they were returned to the circus site with the assistance of a police road block. But the whereabouts of the third elephant, Delhi, about whom there has been such concern, is not known.
ADI Chief Executive, Jan Creamer: “How many animals have to suffer like poor Delhi - and Anne, who is thankfully now free from the circus - before the government takes action? A ban must be introduced immediately to prevent further animal abuse.”
Other welfare issues highlighted by the inspection reports included:
A donkey that was considered to be overweight and therefore “highly susceptible to hyperlipaemia – a condition which is difficult to treat and frequently results in death”. The inspector advised the circus that a diet of “good quality feeding straw (approximately 75% of the diet) rather than hay, and limited access to grass would be suitable”.
Whether free access to drinking water should be given for the big cats, to which the circus explained that they felt this was “not advisable”. The report states that “the cats should be offered water at suitable intervals such that they do not suffer thirst at any time”.
ADI welcomed the news that the Great British Circus was planning to go animal free - as reported in the Horse & Hound in August and quoting owner Martin Lacey - though it remains to be seen whether this will be just another broken promise or a cynical publicity stunt to make more money out of his animals.
FOIA request for inspection reports
Over a year ago, ADI submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for inspection reports for the Great British Circus for 2008 and 2009. We were informed that there were two inspection reports pertaining to 2008 which we were duly sent.
Then, in July this year, a parliamentary question was asked by Mike Hancock MP regarding the inspections undertaken at the Great British Circus during 2009. The answer to this, given by Jim Paice, was that there were two “welfare related visits to the Great British Circus for DEFRA in 2009”. As this contradicted what we had previously been told by DEFRA, we contacted the Information Commissioners Office to obtain clarification of the matter and to try to secure these reports. The documents were subsequently released.
Read the released inspection reports:
Inspections don’t work – read our ‘Out of Control’ report here.