A CIRCUS opening in Cuffley this week featuring acts from endangered species has been blasted by animal rights campaigners.

The Great British Circus has come under fire for using elephants, which have not been a part of British circuses for a decade.

The show also features about ten tigers, which the circus would not allow to be photographed as they were in the cages they are kept in when they are not performing.

The show claims to be Britain's biggest animal circus. Spokesman Chris Barltrop said there was “no reason at all” why animals should not be used by the circus. He said: "Thousands see the circus every week. All of them want to see the animals before and after the show to see how the animals are kept."

He said a DEFRA Circus Working Group report in 2007 into the welfare of the animals said they did not appear stressed and the animals appeared to be in good condition.

However, several animal rights groups raised concerns over the principle of using wild animals for entertainment.

Chris Draper, senior scientific researcher for the Born Free Foundation, said: "We are very concerned about the welfare of the animals in the Great British Circus, and shocked about the circus's recent importation of three elephants for use in their performances.

"The use of wild animals in circuses is archaic, and it is abundantly clear that a travelling circus cannot provide for the complex needs of wild animals.

"Travelling circuses simply cannot provide the environment afforded to animals in even the most simple of zoos, and furthermore subject their animals to repeated and prolonged transport, frequent loading and unloading, and the potential stresses of performance and training".

Craig Redmond, campaigns director for the Captive Animals' Protection Society, said: "We strongly urge the public to avoid this circus and wait for one of the many excellent all-human shows to visit town."

Alexandra Cardenas, of Animal Defenders International, added her concerns.

"Even with the best will in the world, it is impossible to provide animals like elephants the facilities to maintain their physical and mental fitness."

Lars Hölscher, 25, the elephant trainer and owner, said: "People who don't see the animals have no idea how it works in the circus. They are happy, they have space and we take them on walks."

His training partner, Christine Haerter, 35, added: "We are with the animals all the time. You couldn't do anything bad to the elephants because elephants never forget."

The Great British Circus is performing on Northaw Road, in Cuffley, from Tuesday until the weekend.