Durban - Brian Boswell’s Circus has fired a second animal handler for beating an elephant, as the entertainment business felt the brunt of public fury at the treatment of wild animals in captivity.
The company disclosed on Thursday it had been “bombarded with hate mail” and had received SMS threats after media reports of its elephants being abused.
The circus’s website was also attacked on Thursday by a group, purporting to be an animal anti-cruelty organisation, which said it had shut down the site to prevent the sale of online tickets.
“We urge any online ticket sales outlets to stop selling tickets on behalf of Boswell’s Circus until a full investigation has been conducted,” read an unsigned e-mail from [email protected], sent to the Daily News.
“We will suspend operations once the animals have been removed from the care of Brian Boswell and his circus.”
The e-mail claimed that the website shutdown was due to a “a DDoS attack”, which meant “that there are currently tens of thousands of PCs around the world attacking Brian Boswell’s website. The website/ server was unable to handle the load and has therefore been taken down.”
Circus manager, Georgina Boswell, said to questions on the hacker activity that she had been unaware of it until the Daily News had brought it to her attention.
But she said access to the website had been restored late on Thursday afternoon.
Boswell said ticket sales were not affected as they could not be bought from their website.
After a report on Wednesday on the elephant abuse, the Daily News has received e-mail letters and BackChat messages from angry readers.
The report highlighted the amateur video footage aired on television’s Carte Blanche on Sunday night showing Boswell handlers attacking the circus elephants.
Boswell said a handler who had been suspended after the Carte Blanche show, pending an investigation, had since been dismissed. Another had been fired in December when the claims first surfaced via a cellphone video.
The national council of the SPCA also laid five criminal charges against the circus after receiving a copy of the video in January.
The circus management has described the elephant abuse as an isolated case, and claimed it was denied the opportunity to view the footage at the time, and act against the culprits timeously.
Since the Sunday night programme, the “Boycott Brian Boswell Animal Circus” Facebook page has received increased support and its creators have planned a protest at the circus’s site in Centurion on Sunday.
The NSPCA’s petition to the Department of Environmental Affairs to ban wild animal acts in circuses has drawn almost 4 000 signatures in the past few days.
Brian Boswell’s Circus has found itself involved in legal spats with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife in the past.
In 2009, the circus applied to the Pietermaritzburg High Court for an interdict stopping Ezemvelo from enforcing “unfair and impossible” permit conditions pending an internal appeal to be heard by the environment MEC.
Ezemvelo then hit back, accusing the circus of keeping animals under “intolerable and appalling conditions”, and submitted photographs and a video of inspections at the zoo and game park owned by the circus.
At the time, then environment MEC Lydia Johnson, who heard the internal appeal, ruled in the circus’s favour but said Ezemvelo should consider laying criminal charges against Brian Boswell.
Ezemvelo had said it would continue to monitor the conditions at the facilities.
But last year the Animal Interest Alliance (AIA), which had been engaged in court action against the wildlife body since 2006 over its policies aimed at ensuring stricter regulation when keeping wild animals in captivity, asked the Pietermaritzburg High Court for an order declaring the Ezemvelo board invalid
The AIA, of which Brian Boswell’s Circus is a member, had claimed this was because Ezemvelo’s members were not appointed in full compliance with the KZN Nature Conservation Act.
The final court order was suspended, however, on condition that new board members were lawfully appointed within six months. The new board members were appointed only three months ago, meaning that until then policies could not be discussed.
Ezemvelo spokesman, Musa Mntambo, said inspections, conducted by district conservation officers before a permit was granted, had still taken place before the new board had been appointed.
Mntambo said permits for circuses were issued under the category of “moving animals”, and the period of validity depended on the discretion of the officer. He said permits could be issued for three months, or six months to a year. Those for zoos and game parks were renewed every three years.
Mntambo said inspections were also conducted whenever they received complaints or tip-offs from the public on people who kept wild animals without permits.
Boswell said Ezemvelo’s 2008 complaints had since been resolved and the circus had received permits since then. Since December the circus had had 17 inspections by the NSPCA, she said.
“Over the years whenever we have received complaints, we have acted on them immediately,” Boswell said.
“The problem is that people don’t come to us directly.
“Since Sunday, only one person came to our site and asked to see and examine our elephants and their condition,” she said.
“We’ve been bombarded with hate mail and have received SMS threats. We love our animals and people are welcome to come and see them for themselves.”