Animal rights campaigners have slammed a circus which uses performing elephants.

The Great British Circus, the first British circus in ten years to have elephants, is also training a rare white tiger.

Organisers have announced they will bring the animals to the West Sussex Showground next to Old Barn Nursery on the A24 at Dial Post from June 9 to 21.

But the news has been greeted by outrage from animal groups who claim that circuses using animals are cruel and outdated.

Chris Draper, senior scientific researcher for the Horsham-based 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 subject their animals to repeated and prolonged transport, frequent loading and unloading, and the potential stresses of performance and training.”

Campaigners have vowed to hold a peaceful protest outside the circus.

Lis Key, of Uckfield-based International Animal Rescue said: “It is deeply depressing in this day and age.

“We are totally opposed to this use of animals. There is no way a wild animal can express natural behaviours when it spends most of its life travelling around the country.

“We really urge people not to go to the circus, as if people didn’t go there would be no demand for them.”

Sue Baumgardt, a member of Brighton Animal Action and the Green Party’s animal rights spokeswoman, added: “It is just appalling.

“The life of a circus animal is one of travelling around in wagons, having to learn unnatural tricks being chained up for most of the time.”

But circus director Martin Lacey said his animals receive the best possible care and attention.

He added that in a recent report DEFRA inspectors said animals did not appear stressed, appeared to be in excellent physical condition with no sign of injury or disease and no stereotypical movements were observed.

He said: “Our African elephant is called Sonja and her mother was shot in an elephant cull and was sold by the game park to raise capital for the running of the park.

“Together with the two Asian elephants, Delhi and Vana Mana, they are great ambassadors for the species, entertaining and educating the public within the care and security of the circus to protect them.”