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Sunday, July 11, 1999 Published at 19:40 GMT 20:40 UK

World: Africa

Elephant abuse sparks protest

The protesters said they were shocked by graphic videos of the beatings

Hundreds of demonstrators have protested at a game ranch in South Africa over the ill-treatment of 14 baby elephants from Botswana being trained for sale to zoos and circuses.

TV pictures ast week showed the animals being savagely whipped on their trunks and hind quarters until they bled.

Two of the trainers were subsequently arrested on cruelty charges, and a warrant has been issued for the arrest of the third.

The protesters were a diverse group including motorcycle gang members, wildlife groups and housewives.

Calls for freedom

"The next time you sit in a circus watching trainers with whips in their hands, you will know what the elephants went through," said Johannesburg mother Penny Kinear who organised the protest. "They need to be freed into the wild as a family."

A separate demonstration was held in Cape Town where a petition was circulated asking President Thabo Mbeki to declare elephants "sentient" - or conscious - beings.

The public outcry over the affair prompted Johannesburg zoo to take over the handling of the animals pending a court decision on their future.

A consortium of the South African banks and the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has raised around $100,000 dollars in a bid to buy the animals from their owner, but it is not yet clear if he is willing to sell them.

Wildlife protection groups have demanded that the attorney general file charges to legally deprive the owner of control over the animals.

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