Maedi Video: Why Elephants Don’t Belong in a Circus


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Maedi's owners face criminal charges in her death. Will this tragedy bring circus animal mistreatment into the light? Image by Decoded Science

Maedi’s owners face criminal charges in her death. Will this tragedy bring circus animal mistreatment into the light? Image by Decoded Science

Animal lovers everywhere were stunned at video footage released recently showing a circus worker trying to stand on the back of a dying elephant while it bathes near a beach in Narva, Estonia.

The animal is seen clearly in distress as the man – later identified as René Renz, the circus owner – climbed on her back and started clowning around for a few bystanders.

The female elephant, known as Maedi, dropped to her side and struggled to get back on her feet. By the time Renz realized what was happening and tried to lift her trunk out of the water, it was too late.

Maedi’s Tragedy: Legal Consequences 

Pro Wild Life and PETA Germany are pressing for legal charges to be taken against circus owners, Renz and his son. The owners claim Maedi’s death was a tragic consequence of a heart attack but, according to Pro Wild Life, the animal drowned due to neglect and cruelty.  We’ll never know the actual cause of death, as the Estonian authorities authorized the animal to be buried without autopsy.

Speaking to Decoded Science, Daniela Freyer, spokesperson for Pro Wild Life, explains that charges are not only for the events that eventually led to the elephant’s death, but also for transporting her when she was in very poor health. The animal had to travel over 2000 km from Germany, where the circus is based, to Estonia, where she was performing.

In Pro Wildlife’s view, this is a clear and serious violation of the animal welfare regulations,” Freyer said. To boot, it came to light that René and his son only had a permission given by the German authorities to keep reptiles, not elephants. The owners bought Maedi from another German circus about 3 weeks before her death, again without the necessary permits.

According to PETA’s wildlife expert Peter Höffken, this organization is urging German veterinary authority, Wetterau, to withdraw any animal permits granted to the Renz family. It turns out this is not the first death associated with this family, as two other elephants died in the last 16 months, when in care of Daniel Renz, René Renz´s brother.

Maedi could still be alive 

Decoded Science has learned that several animal welfare institutions raised serious concerns about Maedi’s health before the tour. Videos taken a few weeks before this incident show Maedi in a severe state of emaciation. According to Pro Wild Life, her trunk was paralysed, which made feeding very difficult, and explains why she was unable to lift her trunk out of the water to save herself. Also, as a result of a lifetime spent in circuses, most likely chained and kept on hard floors, Maedi developed joint problems in her legs and feet and suffered from severe pain when walking. “The circus should never have taken her on tour in such a bad state of health. Instead, Maedi needed intense care and medical treatment,” Daniela Freyer told Decoded Science.

Freyer also believes the video shows the totally irresponsible behavior of her keepers. They knew about her trunk paralysis and poor health, and yet allowed her to lie down in deep water where her trunk could get under water, making it impossible for her to breathe. At first, Maedi was able to get up on her own several times without difficulties. However, problems started when Renz climbed on her back while she was down.

From lying on the side, she had difficulties getting back on her feet again – which is not unusual for old or weak elephants. But, by jumping on her back, Renz further constrained her from finding her balance and getting back on her feet“, said Freyer. As a result, “she couldn’t lift her paralyzed trunk from the water.

Despite the fact that Renz claimed that he tried to resuscitate the elephant, Pro Wild Life insist circus owners did not take the necessary steps to help Maedi in time to save her life. The case is now waiting further police investigation.

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