Elephants have been forced to travel 10,000 miles across Siberia to perform in a travelling circus.
Animal rights activists have voiced their fury about the ‘tortuous’ journey in which elephants, tigers and other animals are transported around Russia in cramped trucks.
A petition against the ‘cruelty’ of the circus has already gathered nearly 100,000 supporters.
However, ringmasters say the animals ‘love the circus’ and insist the trucks are heated and the elephants regularly cleaned and fed.
The Togni circus moved to Russia after animals were banned from circus shows in Italy, and has been on the road for ten months, covering a distance of more than 10,000 miles.
In the last year the circus has travelled from Kazan to perform in Krasnoyark, Irkutsk and the Pacific outpost of Vladivostok among other cities.
Some of the elephants were seen being taken around the city of Yakutsk, one of the coldest cities in the world.
‘Some European countries like Italy have banned all animals in travelling circuses because they’re cruel – but then the troupe responds by coming to Russia where the tortuous travelling distances are even bigger,the longest in the world,’ said one campaigner.
‘Banning cruelty in Italy, they made it worse in Russia for the same animals.’
Irina Novozhilova, of animal rights group VITA, said: ‘Conditions will not be humane in any circus, for one simple reason. Training goes hand in hand with cruelty.
‘With elephants that means using hooks and electric shockers. Electric shockers cause mini-heart attacks.’
Animals in such travelling troupes face beatings and starvation, she said.
‘Circuses that go on tours travel for hundreds of miles in one go,’ she continued.
‘Another lesser-known fact is that there is a quota for anaesthesia for animals and if something happens, the existing quota will not be enough for even one single elephant.
‘Let’s say if an elephant breaks its leg, there will be no way to anaesthetise it.
‘Circuses are always cruel beyond limits. And circuses with animals should be banned.’
The distance covered by the Togni troupe- from one of the world’s largest circus dynasties – is the equivalent of a trip from London to Russia’s most easterly outpost Pevek, according to the Siberian Times.
But Togni’s Russian art director dismissed the complaints.
‘Such circuses are traditional,’ said Sergey Bondarchuk. We love our animals a lot, they are our family.
‘They too love the circus, they get bored without work. Our animals will live and die with us, they won’t survive in the wild.’
Moving the circus as far as Yakutsk was a long-time ambition for the whole troupe, he said.
‘Both the Italians and myself were dreaming of performing in Yakutsk, we’ve been dreaming about such a trip because Yakutsk circus is the northernmost of all,’ he said.
The trucks have air conditioning and heating and on the road in Siberia they stop every three hours to clean and feed the animals, he insisted.
Travelling across the vast distances of Siberia was ‘hard’ but ‘the animals are like children for us,’ he went on.
He said: ‘If something happens to them, we lose our jobs.’
The circus is currently in Kemerovo, a coal mining capital.