Animal rights campaigners have called for a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses after undercover video footage revealed shocking abuse of the UK's last circus elephant.
Annie the Asian elephant was filmed being struck with a metal pitchfork, kicked in the face and body and shackled by heavy chains in the winter quarters of the Bobby Roberts Super Circus in Polebrook, Northamptonshire. Images show the elephant being hit 48 times and reveal a poor feeding regime, said Animal Defenders International (ADI).
The pressure group, which has previously campaigned for Annie to be released from the circus, shot the covert video over three weeks earlier this year amid concerns for the 57-year-old animal's wellbeing.
Jan Creamer, ADI's Chief Executive, said: "Annie's tragic story symbolises the plight of circus animals and is a shocking indictment of the circus industry at a key time as government considers a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses.
"We have presented successive governments with extensive evidence from our undercover investigations over the years into UK circuses that proves conclusively that routine violence and deprivation is endemic within the industry.
"To Lord Henley, the Minister responsible, we say enough is enough. It is now time for him to act decisively to stop this appalling suffering. It is time for him to enact a total ban once and for all."
Moira Roberts, 72, who runs the circus with her 68-year-old husband Bobby and their family, said they reacted with "shock and horror" when they saw the footage of Annie being abused.
She said they knew nothing of what was going on, adding that the Romanian groom employed to care for the animal had left the circus overnight. She said: "I presume he is on his way back to where he came from. We wish we had been given the opportunity to prosecute him and hand him over to the police.
"What has upset us more than anything is the fact that this filming took place five weeks ago. Why didn't they tell us, why have they left it until now? We don't know what Anne has gone through in the last five weeks."
Mrs Roberts added: "We are shocked and disgusted. When Bobby saw it (the footage) it just wouldn't sink in. So much so that having seen the footage he couldn't watch, he couldn't face it. She is part of the family. She hasn't performed for ten years and we certainly don't earn any money from her."