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Monday, 2 September, 2002, 12:00 GMT 13:00 UK
Exposing circus cruelty
Mary Chipperfield escorted from Aldershot Magistrates Court
Mary Chipperfield was fined for cruelty to a chimpanzee

Seeing the conditions in which a circus elephant was kept is one of the saddest things Jan Creamer says she has ever seen.

"It's bare legs had been chained up for all the time she wasn't performing or posing for photos in the ring, all summer long, barely able to move," said the director of pressure group Animal Defenders.

We were able to show how they treated the animals

Jan Creamer
"She had nothing to do except bash a tent peg that was lying around into the ground.

"She started to dig through the concrete because she was bored and she got beaten for it."

It is this upsetting vision and many others that drives Ms Creamer and the group to get the use of animals in circuses outlawed from the UK.

No life

Ms Creamer stressed: "Elephants in the wild walk about 20 miles a day. That simple joy is taken away from them in a circus. It can't be done.

"They cannot pick leaves off trees. They can't dig around. They often have no other elephants with them for company.

Jan Creamer
Creamer: Animal circuses are not what they seem
"They are completely starved and deprived of everything in life that makes it worth living."

For the past seven years the Animal Defenders group has gone undercover, taking hundreds of hours of video of alleged ill-treatment, involving animals being beaten, poked and whipped.

At the same time, academic research was carried out on the numbers of animals imported and exported into circuses.

Abandoned animals

"It soon became clear that there were few records and those that were available were not accurate," said Ms Creamer.

"Some circuses were found to be trafficking animals. Customs officials would see this gaggle of different shaped wagons, trailers, animals boxes and cages and it was almost impossible for them to be checked."

Mary Chipperfield and husband Roger Cawley
Chipperfield and Cawley were convicted of cruelty
In 1996, the group was alerted to the plight of an animal circus abandoned for eight months by its Egyptian owner.

The circus had been travelling all over Africa, but then ran out of money in Mozambique.

The shocking situation prompted Animal Defenders to mount an audacious rescue bid, that resulted in the starving lions, tigers, horses, dogs and a python being rehomed on a ranch, by an equestrian centre and a conservation project in South Africa.

"It was a pitiful sight," said Ms Creamer. "These animals were sitting in tiny cages in the blazing sun.

Mary Chipperfield

"They had never in their lives walked on grass. They had never touched a bush. They had never been under the sky.

"When we released them, initially they were bemused.

"The cats were picking up their feet from the grass. Once they settled down, the sheer joy of being under the sun, feeling the wind and water, was wonderful to see, very satisfying."

Trudy, the chimpanzee
Video footage showed Trudy being beaten by Mary Chipperfield
The success of this operation was quickly followed by a probe into Mary Chipperfield's Circus.

During chats with workers in 1997 at the animal winter quarters in Oxfordshire used by Dicky Chipperfield - a member of the famous circus dynasty - members soon learned that Mary Chipperfield's facilities were hailed as the "gold standard" of the circus world.

'Harrowing footage'

It was the start of the group's largest inquiry, which resulted in the conviction of Mary Chipperfield and her husband Roger Cawley for cruelty.

Ms Creamer said: "We wanted a proper survey of circuses, so we decided to see 'the biggest and the best'."

Investigator Terry Stocker adopted the name of "Spike" and inveigled his way into a job at Mary Chipperfield's winter quarters in Hampshire.

"It was after he had been there about two weeks, we realised that everything wasn't quite as it seemed," said Ms Creamer.

The group filmed harrowing footage of farm worker Steve Gills beating elephants with an iron bar, a shovel, a broom and a pitchfork.

Hurting animals

Gills, who was employed at the farm as a "beastman", was jailed for four months in 1998 for cruelty towards Rhanee, Tembo, Opal and Rosa.

During the investigation between October 1997 and January 1998, "Spike" was joined by field officer Rachel White, or "Ann", to become a groom to Trudy, a baby chimpanzee, who was mainly the charge of Mary Chipperfield.

With 24 hour videoing, the experts managed to secure footage of Chipperfield hurting Trudy.

"We were able to show how they treated the animals. They said it was a one off, 'I thought the animal was going to attack me', 'I'm very sorry I lost my temper'," said Ms Creamer.

An elephant being beaten
Elephants in the wild walk about 20 miles a day
"It was really important for us to show that they were all hurting the animals and regarded it as normal.

"Mary said at the trial that it was no different from the way she brought up her children.

"She was an expert in animal training. She said she didn't regret anything that she had done. Her husband Roger Cawley said the same.

"Steve Gills said it was because he was depressed and he took it out on the animals."

Sick elephant

The Chipperfield circus couple were fined a total of 8,500 for cruelty to animals and ordered to pay costs of 12,240 in April 1999.

Chipperfield was fined 7,500 for 12 counts of cruelty to an 18-month-old chimpanzee called Trudy.

Cawley was fined 1,000 for cruelty to a sick elephant which he whipped around a circus ring.

See also:

30 Apr 02 | Politics
29 Dec 00 | Asia-Pacific
31 Mar 99 | Politics
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