Stop Circus Suffering

ADI welcomes news of hoped-for improvements for Anne at Longleat

In response to Longleat’s plans for Anne, ADI is pleased and relieved to see Anne in a better situation at Longleat.

In response to Longleat’s plans for Anne, ADI is pleased and relieved to see Anne in a better situation at Longleat. It is of great concern that it is now two years since Longleat arranged with Bobby Roberts to take Anne to their old elephant house (they had stopped keeping elephants over a decade ago) as a temporary place of safety.

Although Longleat and Roberts had already made the decision, and Anne would be alone, we agreed that the most important thing was to have Anne removed from her situation as quickly as possible. Therefore we agreed to support the move on the basis that it was a temporary place of safety, and Longleat would consult with ADI to find a suitable permanent home; this to include looking at facilities provided by more experienced sanctuaries, with knowledge about rehabilitation of abused elephants.

For the first several months, Anne was sharing the enclosure and building with a rhino which significantly compromised the welfare of both animals – with one having to be kept inside whilst the other was out. Nevertheless it was a significant improvement on her lot with Bobby Roberts’ Circus.

We were not pleased to see Anne put immediately on show with queues of cars and visitors coming to see her, rather than a period of quiet focus on just Anne, as she would have received in a sanctuary. However, we accepted that Longleat is not an animal welfare charity, but a business, and this was inevitable and hopefully temporary.

It is important to recognize that Longleat is not primarily an animal welfare organisation. It is a multi-million pound entertainment company whose main focus is making money from visitors. They also received, we understand £345,000 from the newspapers, from public donations, and they showed us their office inundated with letters from children, enclosing their pocket money to save Anne.

We have continued to monitor Anne’s progress throughout, and were pleased to see an improvement in her environment last year, when a year or so after her arrival, she was provided with an additional grass paddock for her to walk about.

However, there remains the issue of how Anne is handled. We have urged Longleat to drop the keepers’ use of the ankus (bullhook) on Anne, and move to the ‘protected contact’ system of hands-off handling of Anne and any future elephants. The world’s leading sanctuaries use protected contact. This is not simply because of what the current keepers may or may not do with an ankus, but what these weapons mean to animals, like Anne, who have suffered physical abuse. It is a symbol they never forget. Circus elephants endure years of physical abuse during training, that ensures that a wave of an ankus or similar weapon, or even a gesture with it (so often seen in public), will elicit compliance – regardless of the intent of the current users, it means her life continues to be guided by fear.

We were unable to make much comment on Anne’s removal to Longleat while the case against Bobby Roberts was pending. As witnesses in the case presenting the video evidence, court rules meant we had to minimise our comments on all aspects of the case, including discussion of Anne’s future. In addition, it became clear during the course of the trial preparations that Jonathan Cracknell of Longleat had decided to give evidence in defence of Bobby Roberts.

The statements in the media from Longleat staff (which Roberts’ subsequently used in court, in his defence) where they defended Roberts’ circus handling practices, such as “Hats off to Bobby he did a good job”, and that if Anne survived Roberts “must have done something right” made it impossible for ADI to continue working with Longleat.

Not only were these statements erroneous and based upon no actual knowledge of Roberts’ husbandry methods (which ADI has recorded and studied for nearly two decades), they were misleading. We presumed that Longleat had no idea about Roberts’ five other elephants, or the issue with Anne’s health when Beverly and Janey suddenly died one winter. The objective evidence is that more elephants died at Polebrook than lived into old age and of course both humans and animals are capable of surviving the most terrible treatment. The other objective evidence is in the ADI observations and the former Roberts workers who have come forward since the case.

One key interview with a Longleat keeper was played in court as part of the defence case, where the keeper (who had previously worked with the convicted Mary Chipperfield Promotions (MCP) elephants), praised Roberts’ care of Anne without having seen any of the evidence. If the keeper were really experienced with MCP elephants, he would have known that absolutely savage and repeated abuse of elephants is possible without there being obvious physical signs.

While Longleat’s support of Roberts in the media and their defence of him in court were from a position of ignorance, this multi-million pound entertainment company, presenting itself as a charitable elephant rescue centre, in fact did a great disservice to those elephants who still endure the situation that poor Anne suffered all her life. They have also undermined efforts to ensure such treatment is eradicated once and for all.

Longleat’s Plans for a ‘sanctuary’

Longleat has announced that progress has been made in their plans to have more elephants and possibly open an elephant sanctuary. Although it is certain that a sanctuary for abused elephants would be helpful in Europe, or indeed a zoo adopting more progressive husbandry practices, there are obviously concerns amongst many that this is simply a “sanctuary” in name only.

If they are to take abused elephants such as Anne it is vital that it be based on protected contact and not hands on control by keepers with ankuses/bullhooks – a heavy bar or stick with a sharp metal hook at the end (see pictures).

The last thing that abused elephants need, is a daily reminder of the abuse they have endured. It also makes these animals incredibly vulnerable to abuse as ADI video of Bobby Roberts CircusMary Chipperfield PromotionsHave Trunk Will Travel, Trunks & Humps, and others has shown. Facilities must be such that keepers do not need to routinely go in with elephants – this is the policy of the leading sanctuaries, progressive zoos, and the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) has introduced a policy of ‘protected contact’ in elephant management.

This is safer for people, enables the animals to behave as they wish, and reduces the risk of animal abuse.

The other difficulty we see with opening an elephant sanctuary in the UK, is our damp, cold weather. These animals are simply not built for this climate, which increases the risk of joint and foot problems, and the kind of arthritis from which Anne suffers. Major provision would need to be made to keep the elephants healthy.

Longleat is a commercial zoo and has benefited enormously from Anne’s presence: Between 2007 and 2010 Longleat visitors (for the whole group) fell from 1.3 million to 1 million. However in 2011, the year Anne arrived, Longleat Park saw a 10% increase in visitors and an 11% increase in revenue (this is double the 5% increase in visitors to Cheddar Caves). Revenues rose by £2.2 million (from £15.6 million in 2010 to £17.8 million in 2011). The group made a pre-tax profit of £2 million. We are not saying that this is all necessarily due to Anne, but the huge publicity will have helped. And it does not mean that Longleat was not the right place of safety for Anne – it was vital she be moved from the circus – it is simply the reality of the situation.

However, it is of concern that despite the floods of visitors, it took over a year for her to get a grass paddock and Anne has remained alone. With no immediate prospect of elephant company, at her advanced age Anne is likely to continue to be alone for the rest of her life.

Two years after our investigation saved Anne from the circus, ADI sincerely hopes that these plans for a “sanctuary” will start to accelerate or it may be too late for her.

  • Read about the suffering of Anne the elephant at the Bobby Roberts’ Super Circus
  • Read about the trial of Bobby Roberts, found guilty of mistreatment to Anne the elephant
  • Find out about our global campaign to stop circus suffering
  • Support our work to help animals like Anne

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