The Togni Circus moved to Russia in 2017 following a ban on big-top performances with live animals in Italy.
The move to Russia now means the troupe’s elephants, tigers and other animals are transported around Russia in cramped trucks for the ‘tortuous’ journey – which includes a visit to the coldest city in the world, Yakutsk, which is built on permafrost.
Currently in Kemerovo – a coal mining capital – in the past year, the circus has been to the likes of Izhevsk, Nizhny Tagil, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk and Russia’s Pacific capital Vladivostok.
However, it was during a summer visit to Yakutsk – which saw elephants Roni and Carla being taken on a walk through the city – that a petition against the ‘cruelty’ of carting the animals around Siberia was launched.
Some 93,000 signed the petition demanding a check on the legality of moving animals across such large distances and then forcing them to perform.
One campaigner said: “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.
“Banning cruelty in Italy they made it worse in Russia for the same animals.”
Irina Novozhilova, of animal rights group VITA, said: “In no circus conditions will be humane 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.”
Novozhilova said the Italians are using the same conditions for transporting their animals as Russian circuses – something she is campaigning against.
“We have been working in this field for 25 years now and we know it from within,” she said.
“We stay in touch with vets who share information with us and there are former animal handlers who work with us.”
Novozhilova claimed that animals in such travelling troupes face beatings and starvation.
She continued: “Circuses that go on tours travel for hundreds of kilometres at one go.
“Another less 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 is reportedly the equivalent of a trip from London to Russia’s most easterly outpost, Pevek.
But Togni’s Russian art director, Sergey Bondarchuk, dismissed the complaints.
“Such circuses are traditional,” he said.
“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.”
Bondarchuk, 48, who said he started work in the circus aged four, explained that moving the circus as far as Yakutsk was a long-time desire for the whole troupe.
He continued: “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 added that the trucks have air conditioning and heating.
On the road in Siberia, the troupe apparently stops every three hours to clean and feed the animals.
Bondarchuk said travelling across the vast distances of Siberia was ‘hard’ but claimed ‘the animals are like children for us’.
He added: “If something happens to them, we lose our jobs.”