Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Stop Circus Suffering USA: Imported acts

Posted: 17 March 2014. Updated: 17 March 2014

US circuses regularly use animals and trainers from abroad. This entails very long journeys to reach the U.S., and even less control over training methods. Here we track an animal act supplied by trainer Dicky Chipperfield, returning to Europe after appearing with Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Graham Thomas Chipperfield presented ten lions and three elephants (Letchmai, Mina and Camilla) for several years for Ringling Brothers. Graham’s brother, Richard Chipperfield Jr., joined him with 12 tigers, but after less than a year, was seriously mauled by one of them. Graham forced the tiger into a cage and shot him to death. The brothers stopped performing and so most of the animals had to return to Europe. Ringling Brothers employee Tom Rider accompanied them.

On November 18, 1999, the elephants made a 350-mile journey from Tampa, Florida to Charleston, South Carolina, in a metal container on a truck. They were shut in for two days and given water only once. At Charleston they were loaded onto a cargo ship and allowed out into a very small space between the other containers. As the boat moved they became restless and so were returned to their container. Whether it was the noise, motion, environment or a combination of factors, the elephants refused to go out again during the voyage. Also on board were 16 large cats, including three cubs, in a 53-foot-long trailer. One cub died during the journey.

Ater ten days at sea, they arrived in Algeciras, Spain. Rider said, “The elephants were in the worst state I had seen them, kicking and shoving the doors to get out. We set them loose in the container yard for 20 minutes, but put them back as they tried to break through the fence. The undersides of their bellies were shaking, twitching with stress.” During four days in Algeciras, the elephants came out twice and, with supplies limited, they were living off hay.

Between December 2 and 5, the elephants were transported by road to Amsterdam, Holland, receiving water twice. They remained in Amsterdam until the 12, but because of rain did not leave their container, except for one 25-minute break. On December 12 they moved to France, arriving on the 14. An elephant hook and electric shocks were used in rehearsals. Rider: “Dicky told Martin [Lacey junior] to give them a command. If they didn’t respond, to give it to them a little heavier in a deeper voice. If they didn’t respond, he would let them have it with the hook. “Get into ‘em” he’d say.”

It snowed in France, so the elephants remained in the truck. Leaving France, they drove 24 hours and arrived at Circus Barelli in Dresden, Germany the following night. The elephants came out of their transporter and were chained by the legs in an unheated tent. Tom Rider: “In rehearsals, Dicky would use both hands, yanking at them with the elephant hook. Letchmai was used, even though she was diagnosed with arthritis the previous year.... In the ring, Dicky was using a handheld stun gun on the elephants. Dicky used the hook behind the ear, legs, trunk and chin. They were left with blood dripping. They would use the ‘zapper’ electric shock as well.... if the elephants were not moving. When Mina did not move fast, Martin would hit her with the hook around the head. After the show he started beating Camilla because the act had not gone right.”

From Dresden the animals went to Massey near Paris followed by a two-day journey with one water break to Gottingen, Germany. Here the elephants were kept chained in the dark before moving to Frankfurt. Rider left the circus on March 12. Before doing so, he “counted the marks on the elephants’ legs from the hook. There were 72 on Mina’s front right leg, 36 on the back, 27 on Camilla’s front leg, 9 on the back right leg and marks behind the ear.”

A. Dicky Chipperfield (pictured hitting a tiger with a metal bar at his UK training facility) ran Europe’s largest circus lion and tiger breeding and training establishment – Chipperfield Enterprises.

B. A shipping container with three circus elephants inside is loaded at Charleston docks, South Carolina for a ten day journey across the Atlantic.

C. At Charleston the elphants were allowed into this small space on the deck of the ship. But, disturbed by the noise or motion, they refused to leave their container during the voyage. Thus they spent ten days in the container (photo B).

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