Britney Spears’ ‘Circus’ Video Taken To Task By PETA, But Trainers Insist Animals Were Treated Well

Kari Johnson tells MTV News that everyone on set was 'respectful of the elephants' needs and comfort.'

On Monday, People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals issued a press release condemning [artist id="501686"]Britney Spears[/artist] for featuring “cruelly trained lions and elephants” in her just-released “Circus” video and demanded that the pop star “stop using exotic animals in her videos and concerts once and for all.”

“Britney may think her life is a circus, but for the animals who are whipped, chained and beaten to perform under the real big top, the cruelty is very real,” PETA director Debbie Leahy said in the release. “She may be headed for a comeback, but when it comes to animals, she still can’t get her act together.”

In the press release, PETA says it contacted Spears prior to the filming of her “Circus” video and “explained in graphic detail how trainers shock, whip and beat exotic animals into performing.” The release also singles out the trainers of the elephants in the video — Gari and Kari Johnson, owners of California-based Have Trunk Will Travel — as having “long histories of exploiting animals.”

“In order to force elephants to perform silly tricks like those in the music video, trainers shock the animals with electric prods or gouge sharp, steel-tipped bull hooks into the most sensitive parts of the elephants’ bodies,” PETA’s press release reads. “Gary and Kari Johnson … have gone so far as to defend the use of cruel electric prods on elephants.”

On Tuesday, the Johnsons responded to MTV News’ request for comment on PETA’s charges, saying they have never condoned the use of electric training prods and that the animal-rights organization is using something they had said out of context.

“My husband, Gary, and I do indeed have a long history with elephants. Our love of and infatuation with elephants started for both of us in our teens, 37 years ago. To say we care about elephant welfare is an understatement,” Kari Johnson wrote in a statement to MTV News. “Have Trunk Will Travel has never issued a written endorsement, nor does it condone using electrical devices to discipline and control elephants except in situations where elephant or human safety is at risk. PETA very conveniently used a sentence out of context from a USDA request for public comments regarding policies on elephants in 2000.”

Johnson went on to write that the elephants used in Spears’ “Circus” video were supervised by a representative from the American Humane Association the entire time they were on set and that the elephants were treated kindly.

“The American Humane Association monitors animal action in film and television. A representative was on the set of the Britney Spears ‘Circus’ video with our elephants, Tai and Kitty, to ensure their safety and welfare,” Johnson wrote. “Britney, the director, producers and the entire crew were respectful of the elephants’ needs and comfort and a pleasure to work with.”

This is not the first time Spears has drawn the ire of PETA. In 2001, the organization scrapped plans to feature her on an anti-fur billboard after she used an albino python and a caged tiger in her performance at the Video Music Awards. And in subsequent years, they’ve targeted Spears for everything from wearing fur to buying a caged parakeet from a Petco in Hollywood. A spokesperson for Spears could not be reached for comment on the situation surrounding the “Circus” video.