ANIMAL lovers are angry after elephants joined a circus performance for the first time.

The Great British Circus has pitched its big top at Southend Road, in Rochford, with tigers, camels and ponies entering the ring.

But this year’s line-up has the addition of three elephants – Sonja, Vana Mana and Dehli – and a white tiger called Tiara.

Circus director Martin Lacey, who has worked with wild animals for more than 40 years, has always insisted his animals receive the best possible care and attention.

But earlier performances of the circus, elsewhere in the county, provoked protests.

A demonstration was staged by the Captive Animals’ Protection Society when the circus came to Clacton earlier this month.

Basildon MP Angela Smith, who is a patron of the group, said: “I’m absolutely appalled if they have got these animals.

“With the best will in the world, there aren’t many places in Rochford you can look after or exercise a camel or a tiger.

“Transporting them is not good for their welfare. They tour during the summer, and you are seldom allowed to see where they stay in winter.

“I would urge people not to go. I wouldn’t go. It’s something I have looked into over many years.”

Rochford District Council does not ban circuses with animals, but the show could not be performed in Southend or Basildon, as both authorities do have such restrictions.

Craig Redmond, campaigns director for the Captive Animals’ Protection Society, urged people to support circuses which do not include animals.

He said: “The Great British Circus shows why we need to end this practice.

“As if it is not bad enough to subject lions, tigers, zebras, reindeer and other animals to the confinement and restrictions of a travelling circus, we now see elephants being imported just to perform in the circus tent.”

The RSPCA has also criticised performances involving animals.

Sophie Wilkinson, spokeswoman for RSPCA East, said: “The RSPCA, basing its view on recent comparative science, firmly believes the welfare of wild animals can never be met in circuses.

“We believe confinement, constant transportation, loud noises, abnormal social groups and inadequate winter quarters may all cause suffering.

“Simply put, the needs of wild animals are best met in their natural environments.”

Chris Barltrop, spokesman for the Great British Circus, which has been visiting Rochford for ten years, said: “Of our three elephants, two came from the logging camps in Burma, where they were used as working animals to tow logs out of the forest.

“The other elephant is African. She was saved from a cull. All of her family were shot.

“The local people are well aware of the high standards of animal welfare, and they constantly comment to us. That’s why they come every year.”

The Great British Circus opened on Tuesday and runs until Wednesday, September 2.

To contact its information line, call 07947 441166.