A decade after her rescue, ‘Britain’s loneliest elephant’ will not retire to France, despite campaign effort

Anne, who spent 55 years performing in a circus, has not seen another member of her species in 20 years

Harry Cockburn
Thursday 08 April 2021 21:33 BST
Anne the elephant will not be retiring to France, say her keepers at Longleat
Anne the elephant will not be retiring to France, say her keepers at Longleat (Longleat Safari Park)

An elephant called Anne, who spent 55 years performing in the circus before she was rescued in 2011 and brought to Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire, will not retire to France, her keepers have said.

Activists and supporters, including Joanna Lumley, had campaigned for Anne to be assessed to see if it was possible for her to make the journey to a sanctuary in France for the remaining years of her life, where it was hoped she would be able to interact with other elephants.

But the latest review of her health said the journey was “too risky”, and could be “genuinely detrimental to her life”.

Anne has not been in the company of any other elephants for almost 20 years.

In a statement Longleat detailed how under the care of her keepers Anne’s condition had markedly improved since she arrived, with her overall mobility and the general condition of both her skin and feet considerably better than after she was rescued.

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Behavioural issues and disrupted sleep patterns, which are both believed to have been caused due to decades of mistreatment, have also reduced, the park said.

In 2012, Anne’s former owner Bobby Roberts was found guilty of three counts of unnecessary harm to a performing elephant. Secret footage filmed in a barn in Peterborough showed the elderly elephant being repeatedly beaten and kicked, while chained up. Roberts was given a three-year conditional discharge.

At Longleat, Anne lives in a purpose-built facility, with a large outdoor space with sand, grass, water pool, a shower and trees, while her indoor environment includes a 994 square metre temperature controlled building with skylights, deep sand floors, automated feeding systems and a specialist treatment area.

“Given Anne’s advancing years, limited mobility, compromised health, and the fact she has lived a large amount of her life without other elephants we strongly believe her current situation is the best option at this time,” the statement from Longleat said.

“We genuinely understand and sympathise with the strongly held views some people have that, despite all of Anne’s very specific issues, she would benefit from the company of other elephants.

“The notion of her being able to wander freely through forests in the company of a group of friendly and welcoming elephants is incredibly enticing.

“Elephants are social animals, in the wild they live in extended family groups. This is the life Anne should have had. However, and very sadly, this is unfortunately not the case.”

The statement added: “She is now a very, very elderly lady, with limited mobility and serious, underlying physical and mental health issues, who has undergone systematic abuse over decades and been subjected to bullying; both by humans and other elephants.

“Uprooting her from familiar surroundings and people she has learnt to trust over more than a decade, and transporting her to a new, unknown location with the prospect of being left in the company of other elephants she does not know, in the hope it will somehow markedly improve her living conditions would appear to be an extremely high risk strategy.

“Not only would there be no guarantee it would significantly improve Anne’s standard of life, there is also the very real likelihood the stresses involved with any move and the subsequent dangers involved in attempting to somehow integrate her with other elephants, with no clear idea of their age, personality or underlying characteristics, could be genuinely detrimental to her life, and potentially even endanger it.”

However, the review has been the subject of a detailed rebuttal by Action for Elephants UK, which led the campaign to rehome Anne at the Elephant Haven European Elephant Sanctuary in southern France.

Action for Elephants claimed the outdoor environment at Longleat was inadequate, including “a freezing cold pool that she rarely uses”, and claimed the close bond with her keepers, which Longleat alluded to, was a spurious argument.

“This statement is often given by people from circuses or zoos about their animals being family members; it was also said by Bobby Roberts, Anne’s former circus owners, before she was rescued from the abuse she received while under their care,” the organisation said.

But a spokesperson for Longleat told The Independent: “As far as we’re aware the location in France does not have any elephants and is not finished, even if we did decide moving Anne was an option.”

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