Circus owner Bobby Roberts was convicted today of behaving cruelly towards Anne the elephant.
An undercover film shot by animal welfare campaigners showed the Asian elephant being kicked and hit with a pitchfork by a groom at Bobby Roberts Super Circus.
Anne, Britain’s last circus elephant, was also chained constantly to the ground and had not been given medicine for arthritis.
A jury at Northampton Crown Court found Roberts, 69, from Oundle, guilty of two counts of unnecessary suffering and one count of failing to provide for the 58-year-old animal’s needs.
He was given a three-year conditional discharge. He was not ordered to pay costs or fined. His wife, Moira, 75, was acquitted of the charges.
The Crown Prosecution Service launched the prosecution after the group Animal Defenders International shot footage of the circus’s winter quarters in Polebrook, Northamptonshire, in January and February 2011.
The footage showed the groom, Nicolai Nitu, inflicting the beatings with the pitchfork. Anne’s legs were shown buckling several times.
During a five-day trial, Roberts had claimed he was unaware that Anne had been constantly chained and that Mr Nitu - who is believed to have returned home to Romania - had not followed his instructions.
He admitted that the elephant would be chained up at times but said his instructions were that she be allowed to roam in a cordoned off area behind an electric fence.
After the verdict, Richard Crowley, deputy chief crown prosecutor in the East Midlands, said: “Not only did Bobby Roberts breach his professional obligations towards Anne, but his neglect and abuse was criminal.
He gave instructions for Anne to be chained and took no action to prevent the beatings she had received, failing to provide any training or supervision for the staff member responsible for her.”
Anne was given a new home in Longleat wildlife park in Wiltshire, last April. Her mistreatment bolstered the campaign by ADI, the RSPCA, British Veterinary Association and the Independent for a ban on wild animals in circuses.
The campaign argued that, aside from occasional instances of cruelty, travelling circuses have inadequate space to keep animals such as lions, tigers and zebras.
MPs approved a motion last June to introduce a ban within a year, but the Government has instead introduced a new licensing regime which it says will improve welfare.
Jan Creamer, chief executive of ADI, who described Roberts’ punishment as “derisory”, said: “Inspection after inspection fails to identify this abuse… These practices will not stop until the use of wild animals in circuses is prohibited by law.”
Liz Tyson, director of the Captive Animals’ Protection Society, said: “An animal in a circus does not have to be beaten in order to suffer and it is widely agreed that the welfare of wild animals, certainly, simply cannot be met at all in this environment.”