You ask the questions: (Such as: Mary Chipperfield, how much does it cost to rent a lion, and would I be able to hire one for my New Year's Eve party?)

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Animal trainer Mary Chipperfield, 61, was born in a caravan in Kentish Town, London. After 40 years working with animals, she found herself in court earlier this year, accused of abusing animals in her care. An animal rights organisation, Animal Defenders, had infiltrated her farm near Stockbridge, Hampshire, and secretly filmed her and the staff. In January, Mary Chipperfield was convicted on 12 counts of cruelty and fined pounds 7,500 for whipping Trudy, a baby chimp, with a riding crop. Mary's husband, Roger Cawley, was convicted of beating a sick elephant. The couple, who have two children, divide their time between Hampshire and Spain.

What are your views on animal rights activists?

AJ Rollins (by e-mail)

Most people, including myself, are concerned about responsible treatment of animals, but the animal rights activists that I have come across recently have little regard for animal welfare. They see the animal rights movement as a means of getting publicity for a political cause. In the process, they earn themselves a very good living financially, purely from soliciting money from a well-meaning but unfortunately gullible public. The animal rights infiltration at my farm could have easily put a stop to the abuse of my elephant, Tembo, by reporting it to the police after the first few days of filming, but they did not, preferring to let the elephant continue to be abused for a future three months, while they got more and more evidence for their political campaign. Hardly the action of people genuinely concerned about animal welfare. Personally, I think the police should have charged them with aiding and abetting the man who was convicted for abusing my elephant.

Many people consider circuses to be outdated and cruel. What would you say in their defence?

Peter A Bowers, Clapham, London

I certainly do not consider the treatment of animals in a circus to be cruel. Circus animals are trained no differently from police dogs, showjumping and dressage horses, racehorses and other working domestic animals.

Did you ever think you'd be sent to prison (and would you have coped?)

Jeremy Stoppard, Stoke-on-Trent

I always had the thought at the back of my mind that I could have been sent to prison, but I had confidence in my defence and the British legal system. Despite all the dreadful, malicious, horrible allegations made against me, I knew in my heart that I had not done anything so dreadful as to warrant a prison sentence. What I had done to the chimpanzee, Trudy, was simple discipline, which any animal in any working environment has to learn. I honestly could not say if I could have coped, had I been given a prison sentence.

What was the worst thing about having to go to court?

Sarah James (by e-mail)

The worst thing about the court appearance was undoubtedly the dreadful reception that I received from the animal rights brigade, on leaving Aldershot magistrates' court after sentencing. About 50 police could not hold back the riotous mob of people, mostly women, screaming, spitting abuse, hurling eggs and placards, and pulling my hair. I don't think that even Myra Hindley would have attracted a more hostile crowd. And all because this mob thought that I had got away too lightly, having disciplined a chimpanzee using a child's riding crop.

How much does it cost to rent a lion (and would I be able to hire one for my New Year's Eve party)?

Sean Casey, Finsbury Park, London

It would not be at all a good idea. The animal would not appreciate the festivities and would undoubtedly suffer stress in such circumstances. To hire wild animals for TV and film work can be most expensive, but it would all depend on what the script called for and how any effect could be achieved with that animal.

Do animals deserve the same rights as humans?

Patricia Curtin, Penzance, Cornwall

No, animals are animals, not humans. They deserve not necessarily rights, but respect, care and compassion. But they certainly should not be considered as people, having the same rights as ourselves. This was of course the crux of the case with me and Trudy the chimpanzee. The prosecution case and all their expert witnesses kept saying that baby chimps should be considered the same as a child of the same age. But chimpanzees of two years cannot be compared with children of the same age, maybe they could be compared in a few years with a child of 6 or 7 but, in any case, they are wild animals, not humans. I was attacked and bitten by Trudy on two occasions, which resulted in my taking the defensive attitude that I did, using a small child's riding crop.

Have you made any changes to the management of your animals since the court case, and if so, what?

Shelley Simmons, Animal Defenders, London W12

As I have now disposed of all my chimpanzees and am semi-retired, the question does not arise, as far as this species is concerned. I was cleared of all the charges concerning my other animals, so I do not see any reason for change in the management of my animals. However, I would make changes in the management of any staff I may employ in the future. I would hope never again to put myself in the position of employing undercover animal rights activists posing as animal lovers.

Which animals are the most intelligent (and which the most stupid)?

Amanda Pollard, Nottingham

It is thought that primates and elephants are probably the most intelligent animals and this has indeed been my experience over the years. I have had horses that have surprised me with their intelligence, but they have been the exception. I don't know about "stupid" animals, but the most difficult to train, to do anything at all, I have found to be domestic cats.

What would you do if you didn't train animals?

JC Dollard, Clacton

I think I would always have animals to train for pleasure, if not as a business. A life without animals, as far as I'm concerned, is not an option.

What's the difference between training animals and children?

T Benson, Southampton

I consider there is little difference. Both need a degree of discipline but plenty of love and kindness.

Have you ever been attacked by an animal? Which are the most vicious?

Peter J Wilson, Stratford-upon-Avon

I have on one or two occasions been threatened by tigers and also have had a few bites from chimpanzees, but no serious injuries have been caused. My worst injuries have been caused by horses.

What do you think of elephant foot umbrella stands? Would you have one in your home?

Simon Roth, Bristol

I do not, and would not, have one. I prefer elephants alive.

Now that you have been convicted of animal cruelty, isn't it time to bow out gracefully and retire?

Allan Major, Glasgow, Scotland

I am now of pensionable age [61] and I'm gradually reducing my animal commitments. Even before all my problems, I had more or less given up public performances, leaving my animals to be presented in circuses by my children and other trainers. I will continue to keep and train animals to some degree, but yes, I think I will bow out gracefully and retire very soon.

Do you keep any pets for fun?

SJ Tinker, Cumbria

I have three very nice dogs and a cat.

Next Week

Spike Milligan, followed by Cynthia Lennon

SEND questions for Spike Milligan and Cynthia Lennon to: You Ask the Questions, Features, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, London E14 5DL (fax 0171-293 2182, or e-mail yourquestions@ independent.co.uk), by 12 noon on Friday 11 June

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