Anne: Britain's last circus elephant

She's 53 years old, has arthritis and her muscles are wasting away. Now campaigners want her to retire with dignity
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The Independent Online

Once the applause ends, Anne is led back to her stall and shackled in leg-irons. The 53-year-old Asian elephant, her body riddled with arthritis and wasted muscle, is the last of her kind performing in British circuses. Campaigners want to end her ordeal.

Anne is at the centre of a custody battle between her owners and animal welfare campaigners, who want her to see out the rest of her life in a sanctuary.

Anne has been travelling with the Bobby Roberts Super Circus since she was a calf. Campaigners say the time has come for her to be sent to a home in the United States, where there are two that specialise in rescuing elderly elephants.

The row has erupted as a Bill is due to be read in Parliament next week that proposes to bring an end to the practice of importing wild animals to perform in travelling circuses. There are around 50 such animals in the country at present.

But animal lovers say Anne needs to be freed now. They claim that it is possible for her to be kept in her small transport crate for up to 19 hours at a time and say she has been observed displaying signs of disturbed behaviour, with constant swaying and swinging of her head.

Craig Redmond, of the Captive Animals' Protection Society, said: "For nine months of the year, this elderly, arthritic elephant is carted from town to town to appear in the big top for a few minutes. It has a miserable life and is kept in inadequate conditions just to amuse a small number of people."

But Anne's owners, Bobby and Moira Roberts, dismissed the concerns of the animal welfare camp as "rubbish". They have accused charities of harassing them. Although her owners go to great lengths to deny that she has to work for her living, they admit that Anne has been hired out for TV ads and makes a nightly appearance at the circus.

But Mrs Roberts insisted that Anne was best off remaining with them. "Anne is not just an elephant. She is one of the family, one of our children. She is ours, we love her and won't part with her. If Anne was anywhere other than here, she would pine away and die."