Jim Clubb’s Heythrop Zoological Gardens (d.b.a. “Amazing Animals”)
“Amazing Animals” is the largest privately-owned collection of exotic animals in the UK, and one of the country’s only licensed providers of exotic wildlife for commercials, TV, movies, and advertisements. Their facility has the nice-sounding name of “Heythrop Zoological Gardens” but, except for six “open days” per year, it is not open to the public and does not have to comply with zoo laws and regulations.
Ties with the circus industry:
Amazing Animals is owned and directed by Jim Clubb. Clubb is a longtime circus lion trainer, chairman of the Association of Circus Proprietors of Great Britain (ACP) and is married to Sally Chipperfield, of the infamous Chipperfield circus dynasty. Clubb got his start training animals while working for the Chipperfields and was once part-owner and managing director of Clubb-Chipperfield, his own company that shared premises with Chipperfield’s circus in 1998.
Clubb’s close ties with the Chipperfields are very concerning because while he was working with them, the directors of Chipperfield Enterprises were convicted of animal cruelty in 1999 after undercover investigations by Animal Defenders International revealed that they routinely used severe physical abuse to “train” their circus animals. ADI obtained footage of the Chipperfields beating lions and tigers with metal crowbars and pipes, whipping a sick elephant, beating camels with broom handles, and mercilessly thrashing a baby chimpanzee named Trudy with a riding crop while taunting the crying animal.
The Chipperfield’s “litany of crimes against animals” were so shocking that the circus was shut down and the horrific footage convinced the UK government to ban the use of wild animals in circus acts nationwide (a ban which started in 2015).
Despite the ban and the folding of the circus, Clubb continues to use his Amazing Animals business to train and sell big cats to circuses in other countries, and he makes his cats give circus-like “performances” to guests during the six days per year his facility is open to the public — if it were open any longer than that, it would have to be regulated like a zoo. This 2010 blog post by Clubb includes photos of him wielding long sticks to train a batch of white lions in a dark, dungeon-like room.
The lions were shipped to a circus in Japan once their training was complete, where one of them was attacked by other circus lions and was so stressed his mane fell out. The circus folk in the comments pointed out that the sticks are called “forks” and “are for lifting an animal off of another animal or used to pin an animal down.”
Undercover photo of Jim Clubb with his circus lions at one of Amazing Animals’ “open days.”
In 2012, there was national outrage after an investigation by the Captive Animals’ Protection Society and LionAid revealed that these lions were born at the West Midlands Safari Park, which claimed to be a reputable zoo breeding the white lions for “conservation”. An article about this has been reproduced below. It fails to mention that the West Midlands Safari Park was founded by Jimmy Chipperfield (a relative of Clubb’s wife), that the current director of the Park is a former circus performer, and that Clubb’s lion act had previously performed at the Kinoshita circus where the cubs were sent. LionAid has more details about the circus connections in this case.
Fury as rare white lion cubs born in UK safari park are sent to a Japanese circus
By Anna Edwards
Published: 05:28 EDT, 27 November 2012 | Updated: 09:06 EDT, 27 November 2012
Four rare white lion cubs born in a UK safari park have been sent to perform in a Japanese circus after being trained in a British facility.
The cubs were born at West Midlands Safari Park, in Bewdley, Worcester, in 2008 but will spend their adult lives entertaining crowds in the Far East.
Animal rights charities have expressed outrage after discovering they were flown 6,000 miles to Japan’s Circus Kinoshita.
The safari park has been criticised for providing four rare white lion cubs to a businessman who provided them to a Japanese circus.
It is understood one of the lions has since moved to a zoo in western Japan after it developed a nervous condition which caused its mane to fall out.
The animals were given to British businessman Jim Clubb who runs Amazing Animals, which also goes by the name Heythrop Zoological Gardens, in Chipping Norton, Oxon.
Undercover video footage taken by Captive Animals’ Protection Society (CAPS) and Lion Aid taken in 2010 appears to show Clubb training the lion cubs during an open day at his firm.
Months later the same lions were seen performing for a Japanese circus.
Animal rights groups are furious that the rare lions have ended up in Circus Kinoshita in Japan
Animal entertainment: The white lions are shown on the circus website, promoting the show
The Kinoshita Circus website boasts that four white lions currently being used in shows were all born in a UK zoo and trained at a UK site.
It states: ‘When they became six months old, they were moved to an animal training facility in UK.
‘They began training there when they were 18 months old.’
A Japanese investigator working for CAPS discovered one of the lions has been moved to a zoo in the west of the country after it was attacked by the other circus animals.
The lion is reported to have developed a ‘nervous disease called autonomic ataxia’ causing his mane to completely fall out.
Animal rights campaigners have criticized the safari park for allowing the lions to end up in a circus.
The four cubs were among eight born at West Midlands Safari Park in Bewdley in 2008 and sent to Amazing Animals of Chipping Norton, Oxon, aged six months
CAPS director Liz Tyson said: ‘The current Government has promised an outright ban on the use of wild animals in circuses as a result of overwhelming public, expert and parliamentary support.
‘And yet here we have a zoo apparently providing lion cubs to this cruel and unethical trade via a middleman, whilst publicising their work to their paying visitors as based in conservation and welfare.
‘It is an appalling betrayal of those people that trust the zoo to protect and care for the animals.
‘But most importantly, it is an appalling betrayal of the lion cubs who appear to have been abandoned to this hopeless fate by West Midland Safari Park.’
An investigation by CAPS claim the safari park has close ties with Clubb’s animal entertainment business.
In 2007 Clubb appeared on the zoo’s own TV channel talking about his company which provides animals to the entertainment industry.
Jim Clubb, owner of Amazing Animals, yesterday confirmed he had provided the lions to the circus – saying it was “business.” He said: “We did receive the lion cubs from West Midlands Safari Park and provided them to the circus in Japan.”
“There is nothing illegal or underhand about this whatsoever. I will not discuss our financial arrangements but we are a business of course.”
“I have no idea whether West Midlands Safari Park knew the lions would be going to the circus, that is a matter for them. I will not go into the arrangement we have with them.”
The safari park – which attracts 1.3 million visitors each year – confirmed they had “sent” white lions to Clubb “in good faith.”
Safari park spokeswoman Wendy Jackson said: “West Midland Safari Park sent white lions to Heythrop Zoological Gardens in good faith and were unaware of any subsequent moves.”
Animal Welfare Issues:
This circus fan blog has posted 3 videos of Jim Clubb “working” his big cats in the studio with bamboo canes, which he uses to poke and prod the cats and to replicate the sound of a whip.
In the first video, a tiger in the studio appears to be very stressed (panting, ears back) as Clubb touches it with the canes. Clubb claims that the tiger is “stressed out by the blue screen.”
The second video shows an agitated 10-year-old lion, King, growling and swiping at Clubb during an ad shoot in the noisy studio. Clubb’s voiceover reassures the viewers that King “really looks forward to this” and that training “stimulates” the animals and is “an extension of their play.” Odd, since the cat ran out of the studio as fast as he could once the door was opened. Maybe he wasn’t having fun, after all.
In the last video, poor King is forced to perform again because the cameraman “missed” the first shot, even though the crew knows that King is already agitated and probably doesn’t want any more filming. Just like human actors, movie and TV animals are forced to do the same shot again and again until the director is pleased — only the animals don’t understand or have a choice in the matter. King comes out snarling and angry, the crew gets their shot, and Clubb happily proclaims that “the only thing that matters is that the director’s happy.” Not the animal. The director.
In late 2016, one of their investigators attended an “open day” at Amazing Animals in 2016 and wrote a blog post about what s/he saw, complete with plenty of pictures. Excerpts from the investigator’s blog are reproduced below:
” As commonly seen in captive wild animals, stereotypical (stress-induced) behaviour was observed in a number of those kept at the zoo. Wolves, a lone hyena, hippos, tigers, and meerkats were all viewed pacing repeatedly up and down the sides of their enclosures.”
“Of all the animals we saw, the tigers – in particular the white tiger, appeared the most distressed. The white tiger paced back and forth repeatedly in front of a window in the side of the enclosure which visitors crowded around.”
“Next two tigers were brought out by Jim Clubb, the owner of Amazing Animals, and made to move around the enclosed studio space, jumping from podiums, roaring on command etc. One tiger in particular appeared quite stressed with their ears flat back and making a lot of noise. The “trainer” used long sticks to order the cats around, pointing and hitting them together behind the animals. Jim then brought two male lions. While I know that watching wild animals being made to perform is always difficult, I was still overwhelmed by the sadness of seeing such huge, powerful, sentient beings oppressed to the point of submission by a human who seemed so proud of what he had done. These magnificent animals could have maimed the trainers in a heartbeat, but through whatever method, they had been forced to submit and obey commands.”
“Again, there was no attempt to provide any educational information about the animals themselves, their biology or conservation. This show was purely about how the animals were trained for and used in the entertainment industry to make money for the owners of Amazing Animals.”
As a result of the CAPS investigation, a scathing news article was published detailing the increasing disgust within the TV industry and UK politics towards Amazing Animals. From the article:
“Campaigners said footage taken at one open day suggested the animals were “broken, mentally disturbed and miserable.”
“BBC naturalist Chris Packham called the company ‘appalling, abominable’ and ‘morally bankrupt’. The host of Springwatch and Autumnwatch has told corporation bosses he refuses to have anything to do with Jim Clubb, the owner of Amazing Animals, after hearing ‘nothing but negative reports’ from people who have filmed there.”
“‘The fact that this is going on in the UK today is appalling,’ [Packham] said. “The beating of sticks at tigers in front of an audience is likely to be done to replicate the sound of a whip. This is abominable.”
” Henry Smith MP, Tory co-chairman of the All-Party Group on Animal Welfare, said he was concerned after seeing the CAPS evidence and called for the law to be tightened. He said: ‘Asking big cats to do tricks is an outdated practice that has echoes of Edwardian circuses.’”
“Labour’s Jim Fitzpatrick said: ‘Wild cats performing tricks is neither natural, nor dignified nor appropriate in the 21st century.’“
One of the photos taken by CAPS shows a distressed white tiger pawing at one of the cracked glass windows of her enclosure. The cracks were “fixed” by painting jungle vines on top of them, posing a potential safety risk to the visitors crowded around the window.
In an interview for the book Let The Credits Roll: Interviews with Film Crew, Clubb admits that he “was bitten very badly by a puma on a TV commercial once, but that was the director’s fault and mine, because I should have just said, “No,” but the director wanted us to do more and more.”
Other News Articles:
Amazing Animals regularly takes exotic animals to local events, hospitals, and nursing homes as a “public service.” But conservationists, legitimate zoos, and even the general public aren’t always pleased: