‘Doc Martin’ Star Martin Clunes Under Fire For Riding Elephant

John StillwellGetty Images

Noted animal lover and charity supporter Martin Clunes, the star of Doc Martin, is facing backlash after he was photographed and videotaped climbing on an elephant for a ride for his new ITV series, Martin Clunes: My Travels and Other Animals.

Metro is reporting that Clunes, a patron for the famous wildlife protection charity, Born Free, is coming under fire from that organization and animal lovers for what is being seen as the cruel treatment of wild animals for the purposes of tourism and financial gain.

The episode of the show which aired on Thursday shows the actor climbing onto the female elephant for a ride, holding onto her ears as he climbs. Representatives from Born Free stated after the show that they will be talking to Clunes “about the future” for him at the charity, and added that they are disappointed.

On the show, the actor expresses concern for the animal, being careful not to hurt her, but says that being ridden by people has to be far less taxing that carrying logs and building supplies. Still, he seemed to have doubts whether his actions were appropriate.

“I am not sure it’s a fitting occupation for the largest land animal on the planet,” he said.

But Will Travers, Born Free’s president, stated that Born Free is absolutely against the use of captive elephants in tourism of any kind.

“There is clear evidence that training, keeping and riding captive elephants causes distress and suffering. Even the most benign mahoot controls the elephant through a combination of reward and coercion, reinforced by the use, or threat of use, of the ankus or bullhook,” Travers said.

Travers added that elephants used for carting around humans are often chained up for long periods of time, causing injuries when they attempt to free themselves from the shackles. He said that Martin Clunes’ actions on his show reinforce that this is an acceptable activity, and this undoes much of the hard work that Born Free has done over the years.

ITV, the network which airs Clunes’ documentaries and Doc Martin, released a statement about his scenes with the elephants.

“Martin was immersed in the experience to allow him to show viewers an up close perspective on modern conditions and their impact on the elephants. Any suggestion that the program or Martin endorsed cruel treatment of elephants would be misrepresentative and deeply unfair.”

The Doc Martin actor has not made a personal statement at this time about the comments from Born Free.