By Shannon Lane @Shannonroselane
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Videographer / Director: Seth Coleman
Producer: Shannon Lane, Nick Johnson
Editor: Sonia Estal
Growing up to 10-foot tall, and weighing an average of 6 tons, the African elephant is one of the continents most dangerous animals.
However, animal trainer and acrobat, Rene Casselly Jr has a unique bond with his elephants after knowing them his entire life.
Rene, who is half German, half Belgian, and his family currently reside with Hungary’s National Circus at Lake Balafon - with their five African elephants.
The 20-year-old is a seventh generation animal trainer, and is in his forth year performing for the country’s circus.
He said: “They [elephants] are like my family, I grew up with them. They are like my brothers and sisters.
“I like to go in the pools with the elephants, swimming with them. I have a really close relationship with them, which has allowed me to do the stunts that I do.”
The acrobat performs stunts with his elephants, which include being flicked and flipped in the air with their trunks and tumbling from one elephant to another.
He said: "My act with the elephant is a really unique act, I am the only one in the world doing the combination between tumbling and working together with elephants.”
After posting his videos and pictures on Instagram, Rene has received a lot of negative feedback concerning the controversial use of elephants in the circus.
He said: “Negative reactions I think are because the people don’t know really how the elephants are treated.
"They are happy, they have their mud bath, they have everything they need, and we’re trying to show off to the people that animals and elephants can have a good life in the circus too."
Rene insists that his elephants are trained only with positive enforcement, using their favourite foods to teach them tricks; such as watermelon, bananas and apples.
He explained: “The only thing you can teach an elephant with is food, you need a lot of food, they love to eat. When the elephant knows what to do, then he likes to do it, because he knows, ‘when I do this right, I’ll get lots of food.'
“I don’t do any negative enforcement, the only thing is natural treatments. You can see that my elephants are happy, they are calm, they aren’t forced to do anything.
"I think that’s the best way to do it, and should be the only way to do it.”
And he also claims that the conditions for the elephants are paramount, when it comes to choosing the circuses he would work for.
Rene insists the elephants always have a large space to roam free, with grass to graze on and mud to bathe in.
He said: “They are loose all day and all night, we don’t need to tie them to anything.
He said: ‘Every circus who hires elephants or animals from us know that they can’t hire them if they can’t give good treatment.
“I shower the elephants everyday with a water pipe, brush and shampoo and after that they are in the field all day.
“If we have a show, I take them to the circus five minutes before the show and they do a routine for six minutes and then they come back to the fields."
Elephants have been a symbol of the circus since the 19th century, famously introduced by the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus.
It is claimed that Hachaliah Bailey established the first circus in the United States after he purchased an African elephant in 1806, named "Old Bet,” which was his star attraction.
Nicknamed ‘The Greatest Show on Earth,’ the circus dealt with a huge backfire from animal welfare organisations, such as PETA. It closed in May 2017 after announcing its elephants would be retiring.