Inquiry starts into elephant abuse video

A police inquiry has been launched after undercover video footage was released of a circus elephant being struck repeatedly with a pitchfork.

The footage, filmed by pressure group Animal Defenders International, shows a circus worker beating and kicking the 57-year-old Asian elephant Anne.

It was filmed earlier in the year in a barn in Polebrook, Northamptonshire.

Bobby Roberts Super Circus - which looks after the animal - said it was shocked by the footage.

The elephant has been in the family-run circus for more than 50 years and no longer appears in public.

The circus says the man seen in the footage, filmed at the winter quarters of the Bobby Roberts Super Circus, would have been sacked had he not disappeared.

The family believe he may have returned home to eastern Europe.

Northamptonshire Police said its officers and animal protection charity RSPCA had started a joint investigation.

Image caption Anne retired from the Bobby Roberts Super Circus about 10 years ago

The RSPCA said: "We are appalled and shocked by the scenes contained in the video and will be investigating what is shown on the video."

Jan Creamer, Animal Defenders International's chief executive, said: "Anne'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."

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 Anne being abused.

She said they knew nothing of what was going on, adding that the groom employed to care for the animal had left the circus overnight.

"We wish we had been given the opportunity to prosecute him and hand him over to the police," she said.

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