BRITISH actor Martin Clunes has been dropped by animal welfare charity Born Free as their celebrity patron after he was filmed riding an elephant in his new documentary series.
The former Men Behaving Badly star, 57, faced fierce criticism on social media after climbing onto a captive Asian elephant in Nepal using its trunk and ears during last week's episode of My Travels And Other Animals on ITV.
Following the backlash, the Born Free Foundation – whose other celebrity backers include actresses Joanna Lumley and Jenny Seagrove and broadcasters Nicky Campbell and Nick Knowles – confirmed the "deeply unfortunate" departure of Clunes as its patron for riding a "captive, wild" animal.
Born Free chief executive officer Howard Jones said Clunes had engaged in a practice which the charity is "resolutely against".
He added: "Born Free has always been opposed to the exploitation of captive wild animals for entertainment and human interactions.
"There is clear evidence that training, keeping and riding captive elephants causes distress and suffering."
Please see our statement regarding this matter here: https://t.co/Y32wr9LDYZ
— Born Free Foundation (@BornFreeFDN) 13 May 2019
Campaigners are now demanding that ITV apologise and drop the programme from its catch-up service.
However, the broadcaster has said claims that the show endorsed cruelty were "deeply unfair" and "misrepresentative", as Clunes "made it very clear he had serious concerns about elephants carrying people" in the episode.
The actor voiced his concern about riding the mammal during the segment, but said using such creatures for tourism purposes was "a kinder life than hauling heavy logs".
He apologised after awkwardly climbing on top of the animal, saying: "I didn't want to hurt her."
Speaking about his role as a charity patron in the past, Clunes said: "I like to do whatever I can for Born Free whenever I am asked.
"I love the Born Free Foundation, it steps in wherever there's an animal facing cruelty, abuse or unfairness of any kind... any animal in any place.
"It's a truly unique resource for wildlife conservation with a knowledge base built on years of work in the field in so many countries with so many different species. You should love it too."