Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Brutal past catches up with circus elephant trainer

Posted: 20 January 2016. Updated: 20 January 2016

Circus Bouglione drops trainer after footage filmed by Animal Defenders International reveals elephant abuse; failings of British Government and European animal protection highlighted

In a dramatic move, Circus Bouglione in France has dropped notorious elephant trainer Lars Holscher following protests and negative publicity after Animal Defenders International (ADI) undercover video was seen of abuse of Holscher’s elephants when the circus toured Great Britain a few years ago.

ADI President Jan Creamer says: “Governments have failed these animals. A trainer and his staff were caught on film violently abusing elephants in one EU country but when exposed, he simply moved across a border. Laws to protect these animals have been promised in the UK and many EU countries have banned animal circuses – this shows that we need Europe wide protection of these animals.”

ADI’s hidden cameras filmed Holscher’s act in 2009, when he was touring in the Great British Circus with his three elephants, Vana Mana, Sonja and Delhi. ADI exposed a staggering level of casual violence: elephants hit in the face with a metal elephant hook, broom, brush, pitchfork; a worker cruelly twisting an elephant’s tail. The elephants are seen and heard on screen afraid, retreating and crying out.

Watch the video here

Like many caught in the act, Holscher has denied involvement in the abuse and tried to smear those who exposed the cruelty. Yet, the film shows Holscher himself hitting an elephant with a metal bar; using a metal ankus to jab and hook the elephants, including in the mouth; keeping the elephants chained, barely able to move, for 11 hours a day (unnoticed by inspectors and UK MPs were told the elephants were not chained at all); using a concealed hook to control the elephants during performances. One of the elephants, Delhi, was found to be suffering osteoarthritis and was clearly lame and suffering, yet continued to be used in a ‘pyramid’ act, with another elephant standing on her.

At the time, Dr Mel Richardson, a renowned wild animal vet with 40 years experience with captive elephants, noted: “Sonja, Vana Mana, and Delhi are being caused unnecessary suffering…. the day-to-day existence of these elephants is a living hell….. LH Hölscher is not using the bull hook [ankus] as a guide to communicate his desire for the elephant to move up or move back or stand still (steady). He is using it as a club to beat the animal. He is inserting the hook into the ear and on the ear flaps to torment the poor animal with maximum effect for the least effort on his part.”

Since ADI exposed him, Holscher has appeared with several circuses and even filmmakers all over Europe including France, Germany, Slovakia, Latvia, Sweden, and Denmark. Delhi and Sonja have now died, and so Vana Mana is alone and does not have the comfort of their company.

Jan Creamer said, “Holscher was not only responsible for the care of these animals but he was seen to hit, jab and chain up the animals himself. The only innocents were the elephants and they have been badly let down by every government and every circus that has allowed their continued suffering for some six years after ADI exposed the brutality.”

According to Franck Schrafstetter, President of Code Animal, a French association for the protection of wild animals in entertainment, “Circus Bouglione could not ignore the abuse Vana Mana was suffering in its own facilities. Lars Holscher is not an isolated case: training sessions are inherently violent and completely incompatible with the animal’s well-being. Forcing wild animals to perform makes them a product of consumerism and hastens the disappearance of their species in the wild”.

The revelations prompted the UK’s Department of Environment, Food & Agriculture to hold a public consultation on the use of animals in circuses – 95.5% of respondents supported a ban on wild animals in circuses. The British Government promised a ban. In 2011, ADI again exposed the savage abuse of a circus elephant in Britain – Anne with Bobby Roberts Circus. As a result, British MPs voted unanimously for the Government to bring forward a ban. Legislation was drafted in 2013 but never passed. At the 2015, election 94% of MPs stood on manifesto commitments to ban wild animals in circuses (Conservative, Labour, Green, DUP).

The Federation of Veterinarians of Europe (FVE) has urged “all European and national competent authorities to prohibit the use of wild mammals in travelling circuses across Europe since there is by no means the possibility that their physiological, mental and social requirements can adequately be met.” The FVE continues that there is “is little or no educational, conservational, research or economic benefit derived from the use of wild mammals in travelling circuses that might justify their use.”

In a special ADI ministerial report in 2009, the treatment of the elephants was condemned by many experts, including Professor Donald Broom, MA, PhD, ScD Emeritus Professor of Animal Welfare Science Cambridge University; Samantha Lindley, BVSc. MRCVS, Edinburgh University, veterinary expert, behaviourist; Dr Joyce Poole, expert in elephant welfare and communication; Simon JR Adams, BSc, BVMS, MRCVS, zoo & wildlife veterinarian. Holscher continued to use the elephants.

Devon Prosser 020 7630 3344 or 07785 552548

Countries Lars Holscher has toured with his elephants include: France (2015); Slovakia (2015); Latvia (2014); Corsica (2013); Sweden (2013 – Cirkus Scott ends use of wild animals); Poland (2012); Denmark (2011-2012 – Circus Benneweis, elephants escape their trainer); Germany (2011 – XIII International Circus Festival); Monte Carlo (2011 – Circus Festival); Bulgaria (2010 – Circus Balanski); Belgium (2009 – Festival Cirque de Namur); UK (2009 – Great British Circus, ADI expose elephant abuse, keeper sacked).

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