The return of circus elephants to the UK!

On Friday 27 February, the Great British Circus began its 2009 season in Nottingham, England, and this year has seen them include three elephants in their act

On Friday 27 February, the Great British Circus began its 2009 season in Nottingham, England, and this year has seen them include three elephants in their act.

It has been 10 years since an elephant performed in a circus in Britain; then it was Anne, an Asian elephant, who was put through a routine of tricks at the Bobby Roberts Super Circus.

The animals being exploited today, 1 African and 2 Asian elephants, were all imported from Germany, and their inclusion in circus routines is a huge step backwards for animal welfare in Britain and a tragic situation for the three elephants concerned.  Intelligent, gentle, majestic and emotive, it is a disgrace that the British government is allowing these much loved and vulnerable animals to be made to perform unnatural behaviours for the apparent entertainment of people and simple financial reward.  Martin Lacey, of the Great British Circus, said the three new elephants would be an educational, as well as an entertaining experience for members of the audience.

There is no educational motive behind the use of these elephants, nor is there any educational value for the public in witnessing the planet’s largest land mammals perform tricks on command.  It is inhuman and inhumane to keep these magnificent creatures in such a manner; to make them carry out unnatural acts for apparent entertainment and to do so, day after day, before packing them into lorries to take them to the next site on the circus tour where they must perform again.

It is failures and weakness on the part of DEFRA that has allowed this use od animals in circuses to continue.  With Defra's report 'Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses' concluding that there is no scientific evidence to demonstrate that travelling circuses are not able to meet the welfare needs of any type of non=domestic animals presently being used in the United Kingdom.  It is worth knowing that in reaching this conclusion Defra chose to ignore evidence relating to either animal performance or training!

We ask you to please write to the British Minister for Animal Welfare, Jane Kennedy MP, to express your disappointment that the British government has failed to ban the use of wild animals in circuses and to call for an immediate ban today.

Jane Kennedy MP

Defra Nobel House

17 Smith Square London SW1P 3JR



On Friday 27th February the Great British Circus began its 2009 season in Nottingham, England, and, shamefully they have included 3 elephants in their act.   Even more appalling is the fact that DEFRA apparently sees nothing remiss in including wild animals in Travelling Circuses, even asserting that the welfare needs of any non-domestic animals can be met, and that, supposedly, includes the welfare needs of elephants!   What a disgraceful display of appalling ignorance!

I have been privileged to have spent over 50 years of my life working with, observing, and understanding the nature of Elephants.   During my time I have hand-reared over 95 infant African Elephants, and returned them where they rightly belong, back amongst their wild kin, when grown.   The orphaned elephants are famous and known internationally, their lives followed daily by animal lovers throughout the world.

I think I can rightfully claim to know and understand elephants better than the organizers of the so-called “Great British Circus” and the people in DEFRA.   Recognized internationally as an authority on this species, I am also conversant with what is entailed in the so-called “training” of Circus elephants which is nothing short of cruel and brutal, forcing an animal as intelligent as an elephant to perform in a way that is totally contrary to its natural instinct.  Exhibiting such an unfortunate captive is nothing short of a public display of cruelty which feeds on the ignorance of those that attend and by doing so simply endorse such cruelty.  

It is unacceptable in this day and age to confine a very gregarious and social species to solitary confinement chained by a leg in a box when not on display.   This can be likened to imprisoning a human being in a cupboard for life.   Elephants need space, for walking l00 miles in a day is merely a little stroll for an elephant, something else that has been proven scientifically.  

I find it appalling that a civilized country such as Britain should even contemplate allowing elephants to be exhibited in a Circus when so much more is known about the nature of this highly intelligent and sophisticated animals.   Elephants duplicate humans emotionally, in longevity and in terms of age progression.   They have a memory that far surpasses that of mankind and a “thinking and reasoning” convoluted portion similar, something that has been scientifically established through an in-depth study of the elephant brain.  Having followed the lives of our orphans on a daily for the past 50 years, I can confirm that they have all the better traits of humans and few of the bad.   Like us they have a strong sense of family, and a sense of death, and caring and compassion that manifests itself even in early infancy.   They are highly social, highly sensitive, and highly gregarious animals that, like us, keep in touch with friends and family for life.    They certainly do not belong in a Circus environment, and nor should they have to.   Elephants in Circuses should be banned by law.     

In this new millennium, it is surely time that we humans begin to extend compassion and understanding to others on this planet and particularly those that happen to have the misfortune to have been forcibly wrested from Nature and denied the chance of companionship, family and a quality of life simply for the so-called entertainment and enjoyment of humans.   There is nothing entertaining, educational or pleasurable in witnessing the antics of a miserable captive in a Circus, and I would hope and expect the  British public to protest in no uncertain way.   It was shocking enough when Gordon Brown gave Britain’s support to the sale of the Southern African ivory stockpiles, something that has triggered widespread poaching throughout Africa north of the Zambezi.  Condoning the appearance of performing elephants in a British Circus is nothing short of outrageous.   It is now that all caring people need to speak out and speak up for the Elephants.     

Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick DBE MBE MBS DVMS, UNEP Global 500 Laureate