Stop Circus Suffering

Rhanee the ex-Chipperfield circus elephant dies

After four years in a zoo in Poland, Rhanee, the elephant that caught the heart of the nation during the cruelty trial of Mary Chipperfield, Roger Cawley and elephant keeper Michael (Steve) Gills, has passed away.

Rhanee at Wroclaw Zoo

After four years at Wroclaw Zoo in Poland, Rhanee, the elephant that caught the heart of the nation during the cruelty trial of Mary Chipperfield, her husband Roger Cawley and their elephant keeper Michael (Steve) Gills, has passed away.

The zoo reports that 41-year-old Rhanee has been euthanized due to liver failure. Torn from the wild in Thailand as a baby, savagely beaten, and passed from one establishment to another, Rhanee’s tragic life highlights the suffering of captive elephants and the need for change.

During the 1999 trial that saw the convictions of Mary Chipperfield and her husband Roger Cawley for cruelty, the plight of Rhanee captured the public’s imagination as people saw the video filmed by Animal Defenders International (ADI) of the vicious beatings she and the other elephants endured.

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Celebrities including Sir Paul McCartney, Stella McCartney, Brian Blessed, Alexei Sayle, and stars of The Bill and Eastenders backed an ADI campaign calling for Rhanee to be retired to a specialist sanctuary. Sadly, Rhanee left the circus for a zoo in Spain, where pleas to retire her fell on deaf ears.

Suffering from severe arthritis, she was passed on to Wroclaw Zoo in Poland in 2007 where she ended her days last month living in an unsuitable climate in the barest of facilities. During her life she had been kept in eight different zoos and an unknown number of circuses.

Jan Creamer, ADI Chief Executive: “It is heart-breaking that Rhanee has died, her life is one of such sadness it is almost beyond comprehension. She suffered so much and the zoo industry was repeatedly offered the opportunity to do the right thing but clung onto their exhibit. We must ask how much longer can these things be allowed to continue.”


Rhanee was torn from the wild in Thailand in 1970 and sold to Mary Chipperfield. It was claimed by staff at Mary Chipperfield Promotions that she was the baby Asian elephant that famously appeared on children’s TV’s Blue Peter, defecating on the floor. A clip often shown to near universal amusement but that really just shows a frightened, lonely baby elephant in the wrong place.

By the 1990’s Rhanee was one of numerous animals being hired to circuses and British zoos by Mary Chipperfield Promotions. In 1996, an ADI field officer working undercover at Santus Circus filmed Rhanee chained by the legs and being viciously hooked and hit. But worse was to come.

An ADI team that infiltrated Mary Chipperfield Promotions from 1997 to 1998 filmed horrifying abuse at the company’s Hampshire base. Five elephants, including Rhanee, never left a barn and were systematically beaten on hundreds of occasions.

The elephant whose suffering sparked a public outcry and global campaign

ADI’s investigation shocked the world, and led to a huge public outcry. The UK animal circus industry halved within six months. ADI brought a legal action against Mary Cawley (nee Chipperfield), her husband Roger Cawley, and elephant keeper Steve Gills. Gills was jailed for cruelty in 1998 and the Cawleys were convicted in 1999.

Mary Chipperfield Promotions closed down and Rhanee was secretly sold. ADI scoured Europe and finally tracked her down to Valwo Zoo in Valladolid, Spain, owned by Spanish entertainment giant, Parques Reunidos. Rhanee stood alone repeatedly bobbing her head in a small barren pen.

Rhanee’s plight had particularly touched people. She was lonely, stereotypic, and screamed out as she was assaulted. ADI’s campaign to “Give Rhanee a Break” secured the backing of numerous celebrities including Sir Paul McCartney who said:

“Rhanee is an elephant which has been allowed to suffer many years of abuse at the hands of people who should have known better. Human beings have been responsible for Rhanee’s miserable existence to date. Please let Animal Defenders International make amends for this past abuse by supporting their campaign to enable her to live out the rest of her life in the sanctuary she deserves”

As media and public pressure mounted, a series of improvements were made to Rhanee’s enclosure: a small shelter was added, a small pool was created, and a female companion, an elephant called Costa, was introduced.

Rhanee’s final years

ADI continued to monitor Rhanee, and the arrival of Costa showed just how important companionship for this species is – Rhanee’s stereotypic behaviour reduced noticeably but was never eradicated. Tragically, ADI observed Costa’s health deteriorate seriously. She was barely able to stand. ADI offered any assistance to help alleviate her suffering, but received no reply. Costa died shortly afterwards.

Rhanee was once again alone, but in 2005 got a new companion, a male Asian elephant called Toto.

ADI then learned that Valwo Zoo was to close and offered to relocate both elephants to ARK2000 in California. Rhanee now had severe arthritis and it was clear that this would be the last opportunity for her to make such a journey. ADI made a detailed presentation to the zoo, showing the favourable weather conditions and facilities for her arthritis and comparing the journey time involved with other zoos that might take her – the journeys by road and sea that the zoo was considering were comparable in duration to a flight to the US.

Negotiations appeared to go well but instead the zoo sent her to Wroclaw Zoo in Poland to end her days. It is hard to imagine a European climate less suited to an arthritic elephant.

Rhanee and Toto joined another Asian elephant in the rudimentary facility. ADI continued to monitor Rhanee, filming her last year. She remained close to Toto and the two were very tactile – at least she was not alone.
Rhanee was euthanised on 30th July, 2011 suffering from liver failure. She was 41 years old.

The ADI exposé of the abuse of Anne the elephant in March, almost 15 years after the shocking footage of Rhanne was released, showed sadly how little has changed for elephants in circuses in a decade whilst the Government continues to prevaricate on a ban.


The ADI campaign to save Rhanee

How Anne’s abuse in 2011 echoes Rhanee’s torment a decade earlier

Help ADI continue to expose the suffering and campaign for change


  1. Roy Davies · 10 August 2011 at 2:31a

    I remember rhanee in Jerry cottlescircus I was sent to when I was younger it was chained in a small shipping container

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