Peter is an independent international zoo consultant, critic and writer with over 50 years work within zoos.
Anne the elephant (Sometimes called Annie) was born in Sri Lanka some 57 years ago. She was either born in a logging camp or was captured from the wild. She was sold and became part of the circus as a very young animal. From 1957 she was part of a group of performing elephants in Robert Brothers Circus before moving on to Bobby Roberts Super Circus in 1980. She has been a circus elephant for fifty four years. Stabled over the winter and then on the road the remainder of the year never stopping in the same location for more than a few days at a time.
As a performing animal she is used to people, the noise, the lights, the smoke, shouting and the smell of sawdust.
Sadly her last two companion elephants 'Janie' and 'Beverly' died in still unexplained circumstances in their winter quarters back in 2001. This left Anne alone as the last circus elephant in the British Isles. Anne today is arthritic and is looking her age. She has not performed in the circus for a number of years but has been available for photographic opportunities.
Back in 2006 after a former elephant carer, Robert Sherer, witnessed abuse of Anne by Mr Roberts the Sunday Mirror set up a fund to try to purchase Anne. They managed to raise £20,000 but the owners refused to sell.
The Video below was released on the 26th March 2011 and shows scenes of totally unnecessary cruelty to Anne the Elephant in Bobby Roberts' Circus. It was this video shot secretly by the Animal Defenders International which led to the 'rescue' and removal to Longleat Safari Park.
Although the footage shown is quite horrible it is incomplete and shows just some of a compilation of 516 hours detailing incidents filmed between the 21 January and 15 February in a barn in Polebrook, Northamptonshire.
The person carrying out the abuse was said to have been a Romanion 'groom' , Nicolae Nitu, who disappeared as soon as the video became public. (In an earlier interview Mr Roberts had stated he would sack the groom).
Video Shows Violence - Be Warned
Animal Defenders International stated on the 27th March 2011 "We have a terrific network of sanctuary contacts throughout the world and are very experienced at animal rescue, re homing and relocation, so we now appeal to Mr Roberts to do the decent thing and hand Annie over to us."
After the video footage was aired Whipsnade Zoo were very quick to step in and offer a home. On the 28th March Anne was examined by the vet from Whipsnade and they stated that they would be delighted to offer her home. At the same time RSPCA and Police started a joint investigation whilst it was mooted that Anne may well go to Longleat Safari Park as a temporary measure whilst health checks were carried out.
By the 30th March Animal Protection Groups had persuaded Bobby Roberts that the Elephant should be handed over to Longleat Safari Park. On the same day there was a meeting between BIAZA (British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums), Animal Defenders International, Longleat Safari Park, RSPCA, Born Free Foundation and Specialist Wildlife Services to decide the best moves to make for the welfare of Anne the Elephant.
In the meantime there had been offers of a new home from the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee and the PAWS sanctuary in California.
I have said it before and I will say it again. I am delighted that Anne elephant was rescued from Bobby Roberts' Circus where apparently she was "abused for years". I am certain that she will get top professional care from the staff at Longleat Safari Park. The elephant keepers there are looked on with respect by their peers and in the world of elephant keepers that is no mean feat.
The thing which I find really sad is that when the abuse of Anne the elephant was exposed by ADI and the Daily Mail that Whipsnade Zoo very quickly offered her a home. This offer was quickly put to one side, buried and hidden almost as if to make it seem that it had never been made.
Whipsnade has elephants, breeds elephants and has a team of professional caring elephant keepers. The elephant keepers at Longleat Safari Park would not have a bad word to say about them in the same way that the Whipsnade Zoo keepers would not have a derogatory word to say about them. Elephant Keepers Care.
So why was the offer from Whipsnade Zoo not taken up? Well whilst the offer was sitting on the table Longleat Safari Park had entered into secret negotiations with Anne the elephants owners.
Why secret? What sort of offer had been made. Without a doubt if Longleat sealed the deal they could be sure of a huge jump in visitor numbers. It makes good business sense. There had been rumours for some time that Longleat were considering moving back into elephants.
Presently they had none. They had previously held some 31 elephants but had relocated the majority of these shipping off the last 5 animals to ZooParc de Beauval back in 2003. They still retained elephant keepers though who presently cared for Rhinos in the old elephant house.
The gold card which Longleat Safari Park held was that it did not have the word 'zoo' in its name. The various animal related bodies which became involved in the 'rescue' looked upon 'zoo' as a dirty word.
Zoo versus Sanctuary Politics
Read more of the politic surrounding the move:
It is a pity that a word, a three letter word is enough to cloud the judgement of some of the so called 'Animal Welfare' bodies. A zoo really is no different from a Safari Park or a Sanctuary. In fact it could be argued that the traditional good zoos are the true sanctuaries. The people who work in them are the same. The names given to collections of wild animals do not mean that there is more caring, concern or love. The names given does not bestow more acres, more professionalism or space.
As to the 'rescue' of Anne the elephant. Was it really a rescue? Did any money change hands? If so how much? Who paid the money? When cash changes hands it no longer becomes a 'rescue'. It is a purchase! So far nobody has come forward with this information. It is not surprising in that other so called high profile 'rescues' were in actual fact purchases too.
Anne the elephant is now the property of Specialist Wildlife Services. This is undoubtedly a good thing. This organisation is more concerned about the welfare of animals than scoring points. It never sells animals once it owns them and will do its best to place them in good homes. They are not anti-zoo like the others. So was Anne given to them? Or did another body buy her and give her to them?
All sorts of 'experts' were involved in the decisions surrounding Anne's move. Whipsnade never got another mention.
There were whispers in the zoo world which suggested that Whipsnade Zoo was short of space and that putting an elderly arthritic elephant in with others could be hazardous to her health. Equally there were others that suggested that moving in with other elephants was just the tonic she needed. The phtographs taken of Anne since her move to Longleat suggest that she would have coped very well with a group of other elephants.
It now appears that she will be getting the company of other elephants. Longleat in conjunction with the Daily Mail have now undertaken to raise a million sterling to build a new purpose built
There was already one at Whipsnade Zoo.
Then there are plans to bring in another five 'rescue' elephants from elsewhere. These will be company for Anne.
There were already other elephants for company in Whipsnade Zoo.
Where are these new elephants to be rescued from? Anne was the last circus elephant in Britain. The elephants presently kept in other British Zoos are subject to the toughest and best zoo legislation in the world. There are no potential rescues there.
Not that we should have any qualms about rescuing elephants in need but this is going to need yet another fund raising drive.
One wonders how this new elephant sanctuary fit in with the aims of CAPS.
"because it is widely accepted that elephants in zoos suffer more than most animals as their complex needs simply cannot be met in captivity. In recognition of this fact, the majority of zoos are phasing out the keeping of elephants."
"It is our understanding that Anne will remain at Longleat Safari Park as a temporary measure while specialists are able to fully assess her health. It will then be decided whether Anne is healthy enough to endure the journey to a sanctuary in the US, or whether it would be in her best interests to permanently re-home her in a UK safari park."
"Regardless of her end destination, we insist that Anne should be given the opportunity to live out her days away from the public gaze and, as such, should be provided with a true “retirement”. This should be adhered to even if not in keeping with the normal practices of the zoo; the emphasis must be on making her last years as stress-free and fulfilled as possible."
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Others involved in the move to Longleat
Specialist Wildlife Services coordinated the move of Anne the Elephant from Polebrook nr Peterborough to Longleat Safari Park. The HGV lorry was driven by Graham Garen of the South Wales Ape and Monkey Sanctuary. Even the Yorkshire Wildlife Park animals director John Minion was asked to get involved in the transport.
Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on May 16, 2014:
Finding a happy home for this lovely creature is the best ending possible. I'm glad to read of her retirement and caring new owners. Didn't watch the video - just can not do it - things can't be unseen once viewed. I will hope and pray that this animal is treated properly for the remainder of her life. Thanks for sharing this touching story.
Cindy Lawson from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on April 12, 2011:
I hope you are right Peter, she deserves some peace in her old age, and time to 'be an elephant' again.
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on April 12, 2011:
mistyhorizon2003 - I hope that she can enjoy the remainder of her days in relative comfort. I have heard of many elephants go into rapid decline once they develop arthritis. Still the videos I have seen suggest this is not as bad as has been suggested.
Cindy Lawson from Guernsey (Channel Islands) on April 11, 2011:
A wonderful hub on a story that has touched many since it was publicized in recent weeks. I just hope she has some years to enjoy her retirement from the abuse and unatural life he was forced to endure.
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on April 09, 2011:
Thanks Eiddwen. I just hope that she enjoys her next few years.
Eiddwen from Wales on April 09, 2011:
a beautiful hub on this gentle giant. Thank you for sharing and take care
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on April 08, 2011:
Yes in the UK anything from an ant to an elephant could be siezed by the RSPCA if cruelty could be proved. As you say though, money and politics.....less said.
i scribble on April 08, 2011:
Sadly, money and politics seem to worm their way into everything. I'm wondering if animal protection laws in the UK are similar to the US? In the US, abused or neglected animals like horses and dogs can be seized and rescued from abusive owners. The owner is paid nothing. I'm not sure whether it would be the same for an elephant.
Peter Dickinson (author) from South East Asia on April 07, 2011:
And thank you for reading Simone.
Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on April 07, 2011:
Goodness, what a life Anne had! Thanks for sharing her story.