Public broadcaster ARD's news magazine Report Mainz is set to air a report on Tuesday evening documenting how workers at Hanover Zoo have been beating young elephants.
The news show received footage from animal rights group Peta, which last year hid cameras around the zoo to track the keepers' behaviour. The footage reportedly shows how zookeepers hit young elephants with so-called "elephant hooks" - a 70-centimetre rod with a metal hook and tip at the end.
The show reports that the zookeepers use the instruments to coerce the young animals to do tricks.
In one instance caught on film, Report Mainz said that one zookeeper can be seen dragging a baby elephant up by the neck, causing the young animal to cry out.
In another instance, a zookeeper could be seen forcefully hitting a young elephant on the head.
On another occasion an elephant reportedly tried to escape, but two keepers appear to run after it and threaten the animal with their elephant hooks. Then through beatings and threats, they appear to get the elephant to walk in a circle, sit on its behind and "beg", the TV show reports.
The zoo has denied the report before the full show aired, saying that the elephant hooks are used as "tools of guidance" for the elephants.
"Our animal keepers work in a team with their animals. None of them would maliciously hurt an animal," said zoo director Andreas M. Casdorff, insisting that their relationships with the animals are ones of deep, mutual trust.
The footage was also given to American elephant expert Carol Buckley for her to study.
“One mistake by the elephants leads to immediate punishment, bodily pain, harassment, intimidation and emotional stress. The elephants at Hanover Zoo live under constant threat,” Buckley told Report Mainz.
“The elephants in Hanover zoo suffer from learned helplessness and live in daily fear.”
Animal welfare officer Dr. Madeleine Martin from Hesse also criticized the form of supposed training given to the elephants in Hanover.
“I would never expect something like this from a zoo of Hanover's standard," Martin said. "The elephant hook is used very often and also obviously. It makes me very sad.”
The elephants at Hanover are trained by the so-called 'direct-contact' method, which is “now outdated” according Professor Manfred Niekisch, director of Frankfurt Zoo.
“Beatings and chains are things from the past, when people thought they must dominate the animals,” Niekisch said in an interview with Report Mainz.
“We know today that it is much better for the animal and the visitor if the elephants behave how they would in the wild.”
After being confronted with the footage, the zoo insisted that the recordings do not discernibly show the animals being beaten. Instead, zoo director Casdorff said the zookeepers were simply guiding the elephants
“They have to regularly do the exercises so that they can train the animals to respond to them in medical situations,” said Casdorff.