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June 12, 2005
The elephant's graveyard?
IT WAS so dark in the cramped, dank smelling tent that I heard Anne,
Britain's only remaining circus elephant, before I could even see her
But when my eyes adjusted the scene was horrific.
The giant beast stood rocking back and forth, tethered by one front leg and
one back leg enclosed within a pen of about 20ft by 15ft far too small for
the comfort of such a large animal and showing all the signs of boredom and
But that wasn't the worst of it. Anne's eyes were dull and lifeless and her
small pen meant she did not even have room to turn. With little exercise or
fresh air, her plight was almost unimaginable. Her arthritic legs are
supporting three tons of weight.
Three or four bars two of them apparently electrified meant that any attempt
at escape for the elderly elephant would be futile. Outside the cage a heavy
metal shackle lay on the floor.
Circus owner Bobby Roberts has refused to let the 52-year-old elephant be
freed or to admit anyone to her living quarters. But I was determined to
find out how well he cared for the animal his daughter Kitty had said was
'like one of the family'. So, posing as a drifter looking for a job, I
decided to infiltrate Anne's home at the Bobby Roberts Super Circus during
its week in Falkirk, Stirlingshire.
Compared with elephants I had seen in the wild such as Anne's natural
habitat in Sri Lanka she looked a pitiful beast in her lonely hell. She
constantly swung her head from side to side and paced just one or two steps
forward and back again in a rocking motion on top of a wooden base.
Two circus workers near the pen threw hay into her dung-strewn enclosure.
She scooped up some of it but a piece of dung with strands of hay stuck to
it landed on her head as she swung up her trunk.
The workers only laughed at her plight.
One, a young English lad, shouted to the others: 'Look, Anne's got a new
hairstyle!' It was at that point that he became aware of my presence and
asked what I was doing there. 'I'm looking for a job,' I said. 'You
shouldn't be here,' he said. 'It's not allowed.' Until then I had been
almost unchallenged by a number of Eastern European workers. But this man
was different. As he escorted me from the site I asked him more about Anne.
He said: 'She's old, too old for the circus now and doesn't perform. We roll
her out at the end of the show so that the kids can have their pictures
taken with her. But that's about it.' In fact Anne is still trawled around
the country and dressed in a gay headdress for the twicedaily photo
But far from being cherished or released to spend her final years in an
elephant sanctuary she is confined in that dark and damp pen for most of the
day and night.
Around the little tent, trailers and caravans are squashed close preventing
her getting much exercise or even any fresh air.
I asked the worker if Anne was a timid beast and he replied: 'Well, like
other animals she can get a bit annoyed and agitated, a bit hard to handle
at times but she's been here a long time and she'll probably die here.' It
is this fate that wildlife charity the Born Free Foundation has been
campaigning to change. But Bobby Roberts will have none of it. I told the
worker I wanted to speak to the boss to ask about a job.
But when Roberts, a tiny man with an angry, florid face, turned up he was
incandescent with rage that I had meandered behind the scenes.
'What do you want?' he shouted.
'Go away. There's no job for you.
What were you doing round the back? I employ 60 people and I don't need any
more. Get out.' Will Travers, chief executive of the Born Free Foundation,
said: 'It doesn't have to be this way.
Perhaps Anne could go back to Sri Lanka or an elephant sanctuary. Or she
could stay in the UK but be rehomed to enjoy the company of other elephants
in a more appropriate environment.
'Elephants are social animals and Anne has never had the chance to enjoy
this aspect of her life.
'Born Free has been seeking an urgent meeting with Mr Roberts to explore all
the options. Her future is in his hands.' But, as I had discovered, Mr
Roberts is not a man who likes to talk.
How you can help free Anne
THE Government Animal Health and Welfare Minister is Ben Bradshaw. If you
want to help Anne, write to him at the Department for Environment, Food and
Rural Affairs, Nobel House, 17 Smith Square, London SW1P 3JK. A DEFRA
spokesman said last night: 'Anne has been looked after by the Bobbie Roberts
family since the late Fifties.
We visited recently and she was found to be in good health for her age.'