Page last updated at 14:59 GMT, Friday, 27 February 2009

Anger over elephants' circus show

The elephants at Newark
Elephants last performed 10 years ago in a UK circus

A circus has been criticised by the RSPCA for using elephants in its show.

The animal charity said the debut of three elephants at a circus in Newark, Nottinghamshire, on Friday was a "body blow for animal welfare".

It called for a ban on wild animals in circuses and urged potential audiences to think of "ethical issues involved".

The elephant act at the Great British Circus will be the first in the UK for over 10 years. A spokesman said the animals received "the best of care".

Many circuses stopped using elephants after pressure from animal rights campaigners.

Asking these majestic animals to behave in unnatural ways in the name of entertainment is a disgrace
Dr Rob Atkinson, RSPCA

The RSPCA's wildlife department head Dr Rob Atkinson said: "This is a body blow for animal welfare in this country.

"I am sure this news will shock and sadden the public which has consistently shown its opposition to the use of wild animals in circuses."

He said the RSPCA did not believe wild animals' needs could ever be met in circuses adding that confinement, constant transportation, abnormal social groups and inadequate winter quarters all caused suffering.

'Care and attention'

"Asking these majestic animals to behave in unnatural ways in the name of entertainment is a disgrace - a disgrace which is already banned in several other European countries", Dr Atkinson added.

"There is absolutely no similarity between the lives of wild elephants and those of these circus captives," he said.

Mark Pritchard MP and Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Conservation and Wildlife said ministers should intervene to "put an end to this cruel and outdated practice".

He said: "Reintroducing more non-domesticated animals into travelling circuses is like harking back to Victorian times.

"These animals are being exploited for profit and people should vote with their feet and boycott all circuses who continue the practice".

An African and two Asian elephants are due to perform in the "European Elephant Act" at the circus.

'Best of care'

According to the Great British Circus website, director Martin Lacey "always insists his animals receive the best possible care and attention".

On the website, Mr Lacey said: "Our African elephant is called Sonja and her mother was shot in an elephant cull.

"Together with the two Asian elephants, Delhi and Vana Mana, they are great ambassadors for the species, entertaining and educating the public within the care and security of the circus to protect them."

Speaking ahead of Friday's show, Chris Barltrop from the Great British Circus said: "The trainer just deals with them by word of voice, he's not pushing them around with sticks or whips or anything else.

"He just says 'do this' and they follow him and do it. They follow him around devotedly like some sort of dog... [it is the] same sort of relationship.

"They have lots of activity, they have lots to think about, they're in constant contact with one another, with people they have the best of care."

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