“My history with Anne the elephant”

Former CAPS Campaigns Director, Craig Redmond, who followed Anne’s plight for many years shares his thoughts on her past and future:

When Irene Heaton founded CAPS in 1957 she was unaware that a young elephant, imported to the UK from Sri Lanka that same year, would change the course of the campaign Irene was so passionate about.

That elephant was Anne, a 5-year-old Asian elephant taken from her family, either in the wild or on a logging camp, and sent to the Robert Bros Circus where she would spend the next 50 years performing.

I first met Anne in the late 1990s and have seen her at Bobby Roberts Circus most years since. CAPS has, for much of its history, highlighted Anne’s plight as indicative of the cruelties of animal circuses: transported from town to town, chained for much of the time, without a suitable family grouping and, recently discovered, beaten whilst chained up at the circus base.

In 2001 I managed to gain access to the elephant tent when the circus was in my hometown of Liverpool. It was a pitiful site – Anne was chained up alongside her then companions, Beverley and Janie. These three majestic animals chained to a wooden board for all the time they were not performing. It was the last time I was to see Beverley and Janie – they both died that winter; the cause of their deaths has never been revealed by the circus.

The following season Anne was in a poor state, she had lost a lot of weight, possibly through an illness that caused her companions’ deaths. I didn’t think she would survive, but each new circus season she surprised me with her strength. She continued to put weight back on but that probably only increased the discomfort of her arthritis which became more noticeable.

No longer able to perform tricks she was instead paraded into the circus ring for people to pay for photos alongside her. With the arthritis making it more difficult to walk, I increasingly saw Anne resting her rear right leg on the ringside barrier for support.

Bobby Roberts Circus has been a major focus for CAPS’ campaigns. Anne has of course been of high interest to the media, but we also highlighted the plight of Monty the camel (confined to a stable in the animal tent, not even exercised or used in the show, where he displays disturbed stereotyped behaviour); dogs confined to a small barren pen; a horse who dropped dead in front of an audience and another who collapsed.

Anne is finally free of the circus, of the constant travel and prolonged chainings and beatings. She isn’t totally free of course, she is in a zoo. She isn’t in Sri Lanka with the family she was born into. While her situation is vastly improved from what it was just a month ago, it doesn’t justify the existence of zoos like Longleat, it just shows how desperately needed real elephant sanctuaries are – there are more elephants who need rescuing from poor conditions who can’t be released to the wild. Sanctuaries like the Elephant Sanctuary in the USA, providing lakes, woodlands, safety away from people and the company of others of their own kind.

The sad thing is that Anne could have been saved from the circus, and the beatings, so long ago. CAPS has been encouraging Bobby Roberts for many years to rehome Anne, and the Elephant Sanctuary told us at the time they would offer her a home. She may be too old to make that journey now. One thing is certain though – that CAPS will continue to campaign until all animals, wild and domestic, are released from the cruelties of circuses.

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