PROTESTERS picketed a controversial animal circus.

More than 20 demonstrators gathered outside the Great British Circus in Southend Road, Rochford, on Saturday to give out leaflets and information to people entering or leaving the site.

The circus caused controversy last week when footage of a groom hitting an elephant, taken by the pressure group Animal Defenders International, was released.

The groom has since been sacked.

Some circus-goers swore and shouted abuse at the protesters – but they were met with support for the most part.

Garry Sheen, from the Captive Animal Protection Society, which joined members of the public at the Southend Animal Aid-organised protest, said animals do not belong in circuses. He said: “I think this protest is very important. The posters are very clear, it is reinforcing the message and hopefully more people will get to see us.

“Lots of people are showing their support as they drive past by beeping or giving us the thumbs up, they know why we’re here and it shows the strength of feeling.

“We have had a few people that have driven past and beeped, or walked past, that have now joined us.”

Police attended the protest but did not have to intervene.

One Rochford resident, who did not want to be named, said she had walked out of the circus with her two children and had come along to show her support for the protesters.

She said: “Animals do nothing to us, so why should humans have the right to cage them and hit them? It’s disgusting. I agree with the protesters, animals should be in the wild and what they are doing is not their natural behaviour.

“I hadn’t been to a circus since I was a little girl and I just thought the pictures of animals on the posters was their logo but when I came here and the elephants came out with the stallions, I was just like no, stallions don’t dance.

“None of my family is going to an animal circus ever again.”

The circus, which is in Rochford until September 2, said the groom hitting an elephant was an isolated incident. Spokesman Chris Barltrop said: “It is not surprising that campaigners will jump on the bandwagon. The vast majority of local people are aware that our standards of animal care are very high indeed.”