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Animal Defenders International

Secret video exposes UK circus elephant suffering August 19, 2009

Posted: 18 August 2009. Updated: 26 May 2016


Animal Defenders International (ADI) has released shocking footage from behind the scenes at the Great British Circus, showing violence and confinement of circus elephants.

Watch the video here

Watch here on SKYNEWS

The results of an undercover investigation by ADI shows 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.

The circus, which has been touring the UK since February 2009, features 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 this year, 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: “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.”

“This is an indictment of the circus industry and also 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 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.

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.”



For further information, contact ADI Press office

The scientific report ‘Animals in Travelling Circuses: The Science on Suffering’ can be downloaded here:

The full-length video of Stop Circus Suffering – UK is available here:

Findings from an ADI Mori Poll in the UK in 2005 include:
80% say ban all wild animal circus acts and 65% say ban all animal circus acts.
90% against whipping and beating when training circus animals.

In 2006, Ben Bradshaw, then minister for animal welfare at Defra, announced: “I sympathise with the view that performances by some wild animals in travelling circuses are not compatible with meeting their welfare needs. … To provide this clarity I intend to use a regulation under clause 10 of the Animal Welfare Bill to ban the use in travelling circuses of certain nondomesticated species whose welfare needs cannot be satisfactorily met in that environment.”

According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2008):
the Asian elephant is listed as ‘endangered’ read more ...
the African elephant is listed as ‘near threatened’ read more ...
Animal Defenders International (ADI)
With offices in London, San Francisco and Bogota, Animal Defenders International (ADI) campaigns to protect animals in entertainment, replacement of animals in experiments; worldwide traffic in endangered species; vegetarianism; factory farming; pollution and conservation. ADI also rescues animals in distress worldwide. Our evidence has led to campaigns and legislative action all over the world to protect them.

© Animal Defenders International 2016