French Circus Drops Elephant Act After Abusive Past Emerges But Film That Used Mistreated Elephant Gets Academy Award Nomination

January 20, 2016, LOS ANGELES, CA – In a dramatic move, Circus Bouglione in France has dropped elephant trainer Lars Holscher following protests and negative publicity after Animal Defenders International’s (ADI) undercover video revealed Holscher’s abuse of elephants during his Great Britain tour a few years ago.

ADI’s hidden cameras filmed Holscher’s act in 2009, when he was touring in the Great British Circus with three elephants, Vana Mana, Sonja and Delhi. ADI exposed a staggering level of casual violence, including elephants hit in the face with a metal elephant hook, broom, brush, and pitchfork, and a worker cruelly twisting an elephant’s tail. The elephants are seen and heard on screen afraid, retreating and crying out. Holscher himself was seen striking the elephants with a metal bar, using a small concealed hook to control the elephants during performances, forcing a lame elephant to continue performing and overseeing the chaining of the elephants for 11 hours a day – while the circus claimed they were never chained. https://youtu.be/h4L6EahWjoQ

Holscher fled the UK, but has since appeared in at least seven European countries and even supplied an elephant to one of this year’s Academy Award nominees.

Jan Creamer, ADI President: “By their nature, circus acts are able to change location easily and often change the names of acts and the animals they use. We have been shocked with the lack of background scrutiny that circuses and filmmakers employ when hiring animal acts. With ADI’s Watch List we work to ensure that trainers and suppliers can’t escape their abusive history.”

While Holscher was touring with Cirkus Scott in Sweden, Vana Mana (then known as Ghandi) joined the set of the Felix Herngren comedy ‘The 100-year-old man who climbed out the window and disappeared.’ Co-produced by Buena Vista International Sweden, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company Nordic, the film has been nominated for a 2016 Academy Award for Makeup and Hairstyling.

When Cirkus Scott became aware of the abuse Vana Mana and her companion Sonja (known as Baby) endured, they announced they would stop using wild animals altogether, after 76 years of doing so.

This ADI footage was already in the public domain along with a damning report by experts, including Professor Donald Broom, MA, PhD, ScD Emeritus Professor of Animal Welfare Science, Cambridge University; Samantha Lindley, BVSc. MRCVS, Edinburgh University, veterinary expert, behaviorist; Dr Joyce Poole, expert in elephant welfare and communication; and Simon JR Adams, BSc, BVMS, MRCVS, zoo & wildlife veterinarian. Still, Holscher continued to use the elephants. https://www.ad-international.org/media/GBC_Elephant_Report_F_2010.pdf

At the time, Dr Mel Richardson, a renowned wild animal vet with 40 years experience with captive elephants, noted: “Sonja, Vana Mana, and Delhi are being caused unnecessary suffering…. the day-to-day existence of these elephants is a living hell….. LH Hölscher is not using the bull hook [ankus] as a guide to communicate his desire for the elephant to move up or move back or stand still (steady). He is using it as a club to beat the animal. He is inserting the hook into the ear and on the ear flaps to torment the poor animal with maximum effect for the least effort on his part.”

In the United States, Have Trunk Will Travel became America’s most notorious elephant act supplier after an ADI undercover investigation in California revealed staff beating, hooking, and electric shocking the elephants to force them to perform tricks. The company had supplied Hollywood films including Water for Elephants, Zookeeper, and Operation Dumbo Drop. bit.ly/1PhBKFU

Most facilities in California have severed links with the company, including fairs and zoos that employed Have Trunk Will Travel to give rides, but last year the company trekked elephants across the country to Southwick’s Zoo in Massachusetts.

Jan Creamer said, “These trainers use such abusive techniques because the elephants never forget, trainers then rely on seemingly harmless gestures in public to control animals who know all too well what will happen if they disobey. This is a national problem because these acts move from state to state with ease. ADI’s Watch List will provide a valuable resource for people wishing to challenge the claims of discredited trainers but we really need the Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act to be reintroduced to Congress to eliminate this suffering.”

The Lars Holscher video is the first ADI Watch List video, with more to be released.

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