Three British male keepers at one of the world's most famous zoos have been arrested on suspicion of battering a female elephant with bamboo canes, it has emerged.
The keepers were sacked after 28-year-old female Asian elephant Tonzi was allegedly beaten at Twycross Zoo, Warwickshire.
The alleged beating only came to light after it was captured on CCTV cameras mounted in the elephant's pen last month.
It apparently showed keepers whipping Tonzi – the zoo's oldest elephant - with bamboo canes.
Leicestershire Police confirmed they had arrested the trio of keepers.
A spokesman said: "We have got an investigation in connection with the unnecessary suffering of an elephant at Twycross Zoo.
"The incident took place in September 2012.
"We do have three males who have been arrested and have been released on police bail pending further enquiries."
Tonzi was rescued from a timber camp in Burma and came to the zoo in 1997 and is a favourite with visitors since her daughter Tara gave birth earlier this year.
Last year the zoo came under fire after a baby elephant called Ganesh Vijay died of a heart condition when he was just 18 months.
Twycross was founded in 1963 and has the largest collection of primates in the world and is the only British zoo to exhibit all four species of great ape.
A spokesman for the zoo yesterday confirmed they had sacked the keepers.
He said: "It has been announced that three members of Twycross Zoo staff have been dismissed.
"This action follows an internal investigation and relates to an animal welfare issue.
"Twycross Zoo acted rapidly and comprehensively as soon as the issue came to light.
"The zoo immediately instigated an extensive investigation in line with its internal polices and legal welfare requirements.
"The small group of animals this incident relates to suffered no lasting injury and are behaving normally and are now doing extremely well.
"Twycross Zoo is completely committed to the wellbeing of its animals.
"It operates to the highest welfare standards and takes a zero tolerance approach to any activity that is not in line with its policies, principles and guidelines. It has therefore taken the strongest possible action against the individuals involved.
"The incident has been reported to the police who are investigating. In addition, leading zoo animal welfare organisations are being informed.
"Twycross Zoo is unable to make further comment while due legal process is being followed. It requests that the confidential nature of this investigation be respected so that a successful outcome to any subsequent legal action may be secured."