Elephant saved from abuse lives life of 5-star luxury at safari park

Move abroad? Not on your Nellie: Elephant saved from abusive circus by Mail readers lives life of 5-star luxury at safari park but now campaigners want her taken to sanctuary in France

  • Anne was rescued from life of abuse after being highlighted by Daily Mail
  • Animal rights found footage of Anne chained in a barn being hit by pitchforks
  • Mail readers raised more than £400,00 and she was moved to Longleat Safari

Like many older ladies, Anne finds her arthritic legs sometimes feel a little creaky. She may lack the energy of youth but she takes pleasure in the simple joys of life as much as ever.

A warm shower, an afternoon game to keep her brain sharp, relaxing to Classic FM.

And although she can’t speak for herself, those who care for her say these are precisely the sort of home comforts she needs.

Of course, Anne is not an elderly woman but an aged elephant. She was rescued from a life of abuse by the Daily Mail after we highlighted the conditions in which she was kept.

Anne is much happier in her Longleat Safari Park home where she eats from a net of hay lowered by a winch 

Anne was moved into a state-of-the-art enclosure at Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire, where she lives happily to this day

Footage obtained by animal rights campaigners of Anne, the last circus elephant in Britain, chained in a Northamptonshire barn with shackles around her legs, being hit and stabbed in the face with a pitchfork, caused a public outcry.

Thanks largely to the generosity of Daily Mail readers, who raised more than £400,000 in donations, Anne was moved into a state-of-the-art enclosure at Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire, where she lives happily to this day.

At least, that is the impression she gives the devoted members of Longleat’s safari team, who have cared for Anne for the past ten years.

But this week it was revealed that some 403,000 animal rights activists have signed a petition claiming she should be moved from Longleat, where she has been since 2011, to a sanctuary in France. They say she would benefit from warmer weather and from mixing with other elephants.

Describing her as ‘the loneliest elephant in Britain’, they point out that she hasn’t seen another elephant in almost 20 years, and that elephants are supposed to be able to mix with their own.

Among those campaigning for the move is actress Joanna Lumley, who says it is ‘time now for Longleat to do the right thing and release her’, and organisations including Action for Elephants, Global Elephant Sanctuary and Four Paws.

But for all those insisting that Anne — believed to be the oldest elephant in Europe, and the only Asian one who lives on her own in Britain — should pack her trunk, there are others adamant she is best cared for at Longleat, which is also home to Ceawlin Thynn, the 8th Marquess of Bath, and his wife Emma.

They include the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA), the government-backed body representing zoos, which says Anne is inspected regularly by experts who are ‘really pleased with the care provided by Longleat’.

Today, trunk poised in search of treats, Anne certainly doesn’t seem miserable. Indeed, her keepers insist it would not only be dangerous to move her but that she is happy where she is.

Secret footage showed keepers abusing the elephant before her rescue 

‘There’s no need to cheer her up. She’s quite contented,’ says Longleat’s Head of Safari, Jon Merrington. Not that he doesn’t understand the thinking of those seeking to move Anne.

‘If you’re looking at a typical elephant, then it is natural for them to be in a social environment,’ he says. ‘But what independent experts are telling us is that because of her age, arthritis and specific conditions, it is too high-risk to transport her and mix her with other elephants.’

A jumbo debate, then. But both sides agree on one thing: that Anne, who came to the UK from Sri Lanka when she was about five, is no ‘typical elephant’.

For almost 50 years she was owned by circus ringmaster Bobby Roberts and his wife Moira. Then the organisation Animal Defenders International (ADI) became concerned about the conditions in which Anne — the last of Roberts’s 15 elephants, who had lived without elephant company since 2001 — was kept.

In 2011, ADI secretly recorded the inside of Anne’s barn and found her chained, unable to move and distressed. Her keeper, 25-year-old Nicolae Nitu, was filmed stabbing her face with a pitchfork, kicking her and beating her with a broom until her knees gave way.

Concerned that the police wouldn’t take their findings seriously, ADI contacted the Daily Mail, hoping public support would force them to act — and it paid off. After this paper’s front-page story about Anne’s ordeal in March 2011, there was an outcry. Roberts’s ‘Super Circus’ in Peterborough was picketed and in 2012 he was given a three-year conditional discharge for animal cruelty.

At 1,000 sq ft, with skylights, 50 heaters to keep it at 22c and a private two-acre garden that she can access when she pleases, it is the animal equivalent of a five-star hotel

People demanded that Anne be freed — but finding her a new home was not straightforward. Zoos were reluctant to integrate her with their existing herds, as there was a danger she would be seen as a threat and killed.

Already arthritic and missing half her tail and left ear because of abuse from humans or other elephants, she was seen as too weak to be transported abroad.

So she was moved to Longleat, and eventually into a £1.2 million enclosure that Mail readers helped to fund by donating £410,000.

At 1,000 sq ft, with skylights, 50 heaters to keep it at 22c and a private two-acre garden that she can access when she pleases, it is the animal equivalent of a five-star hotel.

The only telltale sign of Anne’s advancing age is a slight shuffle in her back legs. Her precise age is not known but Jon believes she is into her 60s.

‘A younger elephant would lift her legs more and have the strength to run,’ he says, explaining that her creaky joints are helped by the 150 tons of sand on the concrete floor — an elephant version of a deep-pile carpet.

Every day, her three full-time carers build sand mounds a metre high for her to rest on. ‘Then, instead of trying to get up from flat, she’s already almost halfway there,’ says Jon.

Once a month she has a massage, her osteopath focusing on the hind legs, through the gaps between the bars of her enclosure. ‘You can tell she enjoys the sensation because she leans into it.’

She is weighed every three months to ensure she keeps to her optimum 3,490kg weight — when she arrived at Longleat she was heavier, which put more pressure on her arthritic joints.

Despite her age, her trunk is stronger than ever thanks to two automatic hay feeders which are raised and lowered by winches to encourage Anne to forage for food, as she would in the wild.

Each feeding net contains six wheelbarrows of hay, lowered to about 3m off the floor, which Anne raises her trunk to eat.

Jon says Anne usually polishes off both nets every night and sometimes won’t wait for her feeder to be lowered. ‘We’ve seen her cheat by manoeuvring a ball or log under the feeder and using that to move it. She’s clever, cheeky and resourceful.’ Typically, Anne sleeps for five hours and wakes before her carers arrive at 8.30am.

Breakfast is often vegetables and fruit. Bread is offered as an occasional treat and hay supplied in unlimited quantities. Logs and branches are brought in for Anne to strip them of their leaves.

Although she is given a daily warm shower by keepers in her treatment pen, she also has indoor and outdoor tepid showers — a sensor triggers them when she stands underneath.

Outdoors, there is a pool she can wade in and a wallow of mud that ‘she likes flinging around’. Other entertainment includes ‘Ker-trunk’ — an elephant version of the children’s game Ker-plunk, in which Anne can release treats by pulling poles from a large tube — and Pop-horn, which features another tube with popcorn inside.

Jon adds that the radio is often left on for Anne’s enjoyment.

Yet none of this play involves other elephants. So does Jon think there is any merit to the claim that she is lonely?

‘No,’ he says emphatically, because she has ‘such a bond’ with her three keepers. But how does he know? And can human company ever be as stimulating for an elephant as that of other elephants?

‘She hears the keepers’ voices and comes wandering over,’ he says. ‘She chooses to interact with them. She can reach her trunk through the bars and the keepers can touch her. She’ll cheekily undo their shoelaces. She loves them.’

Although staff practise ‘protected contact’ where keeper and elephant do not share the same space, giving Anne a greater sense of control, she does have company in her enclosure in the form of three Nubian goats.

Jon believes the challenges of moving Anne abroad to meet other elephants in Elephant Haven, in central France, would be too great.

‘It would be on a modified lorry and at some stage she’d have to go on a boat or a plane,’ he says. ‘If she fell over in transit she could damage bones, or suffocate if she collapsed in an awkward position.’

He maintains that mixing with other elephants might not be in Anne’s best interests anyway. ‘If another elephant was being dominant, a younger elephant would be able to fight back or run away,’ he explains. ‘Because of Anne’s slow movement, she wouldn’t be able to.’

That is why Longleat hasn’t bowed to pressure to invite another elephant to live with Anne.

Jon insists Longleat’s refusal to give her up is not financially motivated, pointing out that when the park is open, visitors often don’t get a glimpse of her.

The petition to have Anne moved was started by a former Longleat employee, Adrian Lanfear, who acknowledges that the safari park has cared for her well. But Jon says: ‘I don’t believe he ever worked with our elephant. Our decision-making is based on facts, expert opinions and independent reviews.’

His answer to the argument that a sunnier climate would help Anne’s arthritis is: ‘She’s very used to our climate.’

Given that female Asian elephants have an average lifespan of 41 years, Anne has already lived a lot longer than most. ‘We hope we have many more years with her but anything from hereon in is a really good bonus,’ says Jon.

‘I think of her as like an old lady in a retirement home, in a stable, loving environment that caters for all her needs.’

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