Wild animal exploitation
BBC documentary highlights tragic consequences of wild animal shows
‘Circus Elephant Rampage’ filmmakers back ADI stop circus suffering campaign
A moving film highlighting the perils of wild animals in circuses will air on BBC Four this evening and tomorrow. ‘Circus Elephant Rampage’ tells the story of Tyke the elephant, who died in a hail of gunfire after she broke free from a circus in Hawaii and went on the rampage, killing her trainer. The filmmakers say that Tyke’s tragic story highlights the vital need for campaigns like Animal Defenders International’s (ADI) to end wild animal circus acts.Directors Susan Lambert and Stefan Moore said: “We wanted to tell the story of a circus elephant whose break for freedom sparked a global battle over the use of wild performing animals. Tyke’s tragic story is a powerful example of why campaigns like ADI’s are so vital to ending the use of wild animals in entertainment.”
ADI President Jan Creamer said “This moving documentary tells one individual’s poignant story which symbolises the experience of many thousands of wild animals who have suffered and died in circuses around the world. Much has been learned since Tyke’s tragic death and we know that making animals perform is very harmful for their welfare and puts people at risk. Many governments have acted to ban animal circus acts, but those that haven’t yet must do so now to help animal and human victims of the circus.”
Two years after Tyke was killed in 1994, ADI undertook a groundbreaking investigation which exposed cruelty to elephants and other animals in the UK. ADI’s footage of shocking and routine brutality changed public perceptions of the industry forever. Mary Chipperfield, who then ran one of the most prestigious and successful animal entertainment enterprises, was caught on film kicking and hitting a baby chimpanzee with a stick. Her husband and an elephant keeper were filmed beating elephants and the trio were charged with cruelty and convicted and sentenced to prison and fines, marking the first successful convictions for animal cruelty at a British circus.
ADI has since exposed further shocking abuse of elephants and other animals behind-the-scenes at circuses in the UK and around the world. ADI’s exposé of the abuse of three elephants at the Great British Circus caused public outrage. In a scene which could easily have ended in a disaster reminiscent of Tyke’s tragedy, two of the abused elephants subsequently escaped their trainer in rush-hour traffic in Denmark.
In the UK, Anne the elephant made a break for freedom from Bobby Roberts Super Circus in Carlisle. Staff jabbed the elderly elephant repeatedly with a ‘bullhook’ and pulled her trunk to control her. ADI later filmed Anne being kicked, beaten and chained for long periods at the circus’ winter quarters. The footage sent shockwaves across the UK and around the world and Anne’s owner was convicted of cruelty. The government subsequently drafted legislation to ban wild animal acts, though its passage is still awaited.
Incidents involving wild animals from circuses occur frequently. Last weekend in Denmark, handlers lost control of three elephants who were being returned to the circus after bathing in the sea. One of the elephants charged a car and lifted it into the air. In June, a person in Germany was killed after being attacked by an elephant who escaped from a circus. ADI released footage last year of elephants used for children’s rides fighting one another with circus workers trying to control them with ‘bullhooks’, metal bars and stun guns.
These are just a few of the countless incidents involving wild animals of different species in circuses around the world. Last week footage emerged of British big cat trainer Thomas Chipperfield being swiped at by one of his lions during a performance in Wales. The director of the controversial show stated such incidents “happen all the time”.
Governments across the world are responding to changing attitudes regarding animal performances. 31 countries have national prohibitions on animal circuses, with similar laws under discussion in several more. The overwhelming majority of the British public oppose wild animal acts with almost 95% of respondents to a public consultation calling on the government to ban wild animal circuses. Legislation to prohibit wild animal acts has been drafted in England and will also be adopted by Wales, but progress has been slow. Scotland will soon announce its plans on the issue, following a public consultation which recently revealed that 98% of respondents support a ban.
ADI is currently assisting authorities in Peru and Colombia to implement their animal circus bans. The organisation has rescued over 80 animals as part of its Operation Spirit of Freedom mission. Award-winning film LION ARK, which charts ADI’s incredible mission to rescue 25 lions from circuses in Bolivia, screens in Walton on Thames Everyman cinema this Thursday.
‘Circus Elephant Rampage’ features in BBC Four’s ‘Storyville’ series, showcasing the best in international documentaries. It will air on Wednesday 22 July at 9pm and Thursday 23 July at 2.45am and 11pm.
BBC Four Storyville: Circus Elephant Rampage