ANIMAL rights protesters have hit out at a circus visiting the region.
Bobby Roberts Super Circus, in Whitburn, has been accused of cruelty for the way it treats its animals – especially 57-year-old elephant Anne, the oldest still with a UK circus.
But the circus insists it has "nothing to hide" and is "No1 for animal care".
Members of North East group People Voices For Animals stood outside the entrance of the circus handing out flyers and asking people to boycott it.
Indian elephant Anne has been with the circus for 53 years and is suffering from arthritis.
The circus say she is retired, but campaigners think she should no longer travel with the show.
A spokeswoman for People Voices For Animals said: "A lot of people are unaware that animals are used in circuses.
"Due to the nature of circuses, they live in confined spaces. They are tethered and chained most of the time – and training methods are brutal.
"It is a cruel and outdated practice that people don't want to watch.
"Anne is 57 and arthritic, most people are shocked she is with the circus.
"Surely these animals should be in their natural environment?"
Ringmaster Simon Shaw said: "We weren't impressed with the protesters being outside – they are entitled to their opinion, but we don't agree with it.
"They were handing out leaflets with distressing images on, which certainly weren't from our circus.
"Bobby is No1 for animal care and we have nothing to hide. We open the stables after the show so families can come in and see the them.
"Their protest doesn't reflect what Bobby Roberts Super Circus is about."
On their website, the circus says: "She has the best possible veterinary care for the mild arthritis which affects her hind right leg, and our vets assure us she is not in any pain or distress.
"For Anne to be anywhere other than at the circus, where she is with the humans – her family – who she knows and trusts, together with the animals who have become her companions, would cause her unnecessary stress."
Defra, the Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs, which monitors the welfare of such animals, said: "Independent veterinary advice we have seen suggests her welfare needs are best met by her remaining with the circus."