Anne in her enclosure, which is surrounded by cars driving past. She can see but not reach the woods nearby, and has no trees in her enclosure. Credit: Daily Mail
Anne is an Asian elephant who has been alone at Longleat Safari Park since 2011. No one really knows her real age, as she was caught from the wild as a baby and details of her age have been erroneously recorded over the years. All the circumstantial evidence points to her being in her 60s.
She was born in the wild in Sri Lanka and stolen from her mother as a baby, then sent to the UK to be a circus elephant. For decades she toured the country as part of a herd of elephants with the Bobby Roberts Circus.
In 2001 Anne lost her two remaining circus companions and was left alone. That was the last time she saw another elephant. (For such a highly social animal who lives in groups in the wild, nothing is worse that a solitary existence. Sadly, places like Longleat refuse to release their solitary elephants to sanctuary.)
At the circus she was kept in appalling conditions and abused with a metal hook. In the summer of 2002, alone now and grieving for her dead companions, she almost died from being in such poor health. Animal Defenders International (ADI) had been secretly filming the conditions of elephants in UK circuses and they documented Anne’s appalling, emaciated condition that summer as she was dragged around the country sick and in pain.
In 2011 ADI showed secret footage of Anne being viciously beaten by a groom at the circus, which led to Bobby Roberts being criminally charged and convicted the following year. There was an urgent need to remove Anne from the circus, and she was taken to Longleat as a place of immediate safety. This was only intended to be a temporary move until a more suitable home could be found. But, for many reasons, that never happened, and promises from Longleat (such as their plan to build a sanctuary for several elephants) never came to pass. Instead, the area was modified into a ‘haven’ for Anne.
Anne’s world at Longleat
Anne has a large indoor space which is heated and a fenced outdoor area. Contrary to Longleat’s assertions, there doesn’t appear to be any visible enrichment outside. She used to have an outdoor mud wallow, which she clearly enjoyed (seen in pictures), but it’s no longer there. The area is devoid of any trees (there is an old stump) and has nothing to interest or stimulate her. Surrounding the fenced area are paved roads with cars driving by all day, forcing her to live with the noise and pollution when outside.
Cars pass very close to Anne’s enclosure, yet Longleat say that she isn’t on display!
She does not have a pool that she can fully use and enjoy. At best, she has been seen to stand with only her feet in the shallow water; the water must be freezing cold for most of the year – not ideal for an elephant with arthritis, which Longleat claim she suffers from.
Anne can sometimes be seen swaying, a classic sign of mental distress and mind-numbing tedium in captive elephants.
It is questionable whether the isolation to which Anne is confined and her inadequate environment meet the minimum standards of care as set forth in the government’s SSMZP guidelines, specifically the requirement that ‘Female elephants must have social contact with other elephants at all times‘. When we asked the EWG experts about this, we were told Anne has been made exempt from that requirement due to ‘rare, specific circumstances’, which in Anne’s case are ‘She is not considered fit for transport external to the UK’. Giving her this classification condemns her to living out her days alone, never to see another elephant again. This is not acceptable when a solution is available.
Anne’s age and health
While the Elephant Database of Captive Elephants gives Anne’s birth year as 1954, the database is full of incorrect dates and therefore an unreliable source. There is circumstantial evidence that suggests she was born in 1959-61, which would make her 5-7 years younger than what Longleat claim. But due to poor record keeping, the unreliability of the Roberts’ recollections, and not knowing how old Anne was when she arrived as a baby at the circus, it is difficult to pinpoint an exact date.
Whatever her true age, the portrayal of Anne as an old arthritic elephant enjoying a peaceful retirement leaves out everything that’s strong and vital and resilient in her; she’s a true survivor in the captive world she was forced into. She has lived a long life of abuse, suffering and loneliness. Now that she has a chance to live as an elephant for the first time in her life, in far better conditions, free to roam fields and woods, there is no good reason or justification for not trying to make this happen.
The last inspection of Anne by zoo officials in 2019 does not reveal any serious conditions that would prevent her move. We are simply asking Longleat to allow her to be seen by an independent expert, to get a full picture of her health. The resistance from Longleat to such an inspection suggests they are worried that Anne will be found to be well enough to make the journey to the sanctuary.
While Anne’s physical condition has improved over the past few years, her emotional and psychological needs are not met by Longleat, and never could be.
One experiment in particular seemed gratuitously cruel: the recorded sounds of an elephant herd were played to her to see how she would react. At first she perked up and became excited and rushed outside trying to find its source, only to discover it wasn’t real. Longleat themselves remarked that they’d never seen her move so fast, and that it proved Anne was still very much interested in other elephants. Yet they contradict this in saying they don’t think Anne should be with other elephants, although this argument flies in the face of everything we know about the needs of female elephants. The experiment also proves that Anne can move quickly if she wants to, contrary to claims of mobility issues.
Anne’s physical health is a matter of debate. Longleat maintain that ‘she is not considered fit for transport external to the UK’, but haven’t shown evidence to support this. At the same time, they talk about how much her health has improved at Longleat. There is no question that this is the case, especially with marked improvement in her trunk (which was impaired in previous injuries); in the words of the chair of the Elephant Welfare Group (and one of Anne’s inspectors), ‘her locomotion has improved (although will always be restricted) she now moved tyres and other objects around, uses the shower, uses the indoor mud pile, reached up and pulls enrichment feed down with her trunk’.
The 2019 inspection report on Anne makes a number of misleading statements about her environment; for instance, the report calls her area an ‘excellent enclosure which caters for her needs’ and states, in reply to the question ‘Does the outdoor enclosure provide adequate space to allow natural behaviours?’:
‘Very good enrichment provided including shower and pool and tree for browse and mud wallows etc.’
Anne doesn’t use the pool, there are no trees in her enclosure, and no wallows (she had one in the past).
When asked about Anne being alone, the EWG inspector said, ‘She also has the company of a devoted herd of goats, although she appears to pay them little attention!’
Our hope for Anne
Our main focus is for Longleat to agree to an independent veterinary inspection of Anne by someone outside the zoo sector, to determine her state of health and whether she could make the trip.
From everything we’ve seen and read, there don’t appear to be any physical impediments to her being moved. Furthermore, she has plenty of experience with travelling and getting on and off trucks. In his statement of support, Scott Blais, head of Global Sanctuary for Elephants, says:
‘Based on our review of current videos provided and Anne’s history of traveling with circuses, we believe that Anne will tolerate this relatively short transfer with relative ease. To ensure the highest degree of success, our team’s elephant transport specialist has initiated discussions with Elephant Haven and will remain available for consultation throughout Anne’s transfer. Although the consideration of elephant transport is daunting, the elephants, even those who have not traveled in decades, adjust, adapt, and tolerate the journey with remarkable ease.’
Over the course of the campaign we have written to dozens of people, including Longleat personnel, elephant experts, NGOs, MPs, celebrities, and more. Longleat has so far refused to engage with us directly on the sanctuary offer.
Longleat’s objections come down to two main arguments: that Anne is not physically fit enough to make the journey, and that there’s a risk of her being bullied by other elephants in a sanctuary. The first objection is easily remedied by allowing an independent vet to assess her. The second objection has no grounds at all, as bullying would never be allowed at sanctuaries, where there are procedures for gradually introducing and integrating the elephants. Elephant Haven’s statement lists their comprehensive protocols to ensure bullying can’t occur, which should allay any concerns Longleat have on this matter.