Almost 400,000 people have signed a petition to rehome ‘Britain’s loneliest elephant’ – that hasn’t seen one of its kind for 20 years.
Anne the Asian elephant was beaten and forced to perform tricks for more than 50 years before being rescued from the Bobby Robert’s ‘Super Circus’.
She currently lives in a heated £1.2m enclosure at Longleat Safari Park in Wiltshire, where she is free to roam as she pleases.
Animal activists, including British actress Joanna Lumley, want her to be moved from Wiltshire to Elephant Haven in Limousin, France, so she can mix with other elephants, since, in the wild, females live in large family herds.
Adrian Lanfear, a former Longleat employee and the man behind the petition, told ITV Westcountry: “She probably believes she’s the last elephant in existence.”
Anne, the UK’s last circus elephant, was rescued by Longleat in 2011 after footage emerged of her being hit and stabbed with a pitchfork by a circus employee.
But animal welfare lobbyists argue the Longleat move was only supposed to be a temporary solution before finding her a forever home.
Supporters of the petition say the warmer climate in France will be kinder to Anne’s arthritis and living with other elephants will improve her quality of life.
The call for her to be moved is supported by campaigners from Action for Elephants, Global Elephant Sanctuary, Born Free and Four Paws.
But Longleat says Anne’s complex needs and age impact her ability to travel. They add that introducing her to younger elephants at this age could leave her at risk of being bullied or physically hurt.
In a statement, the safari park said: “We understand the sanctuary [in France] was launched in 2012 but, to date, is yet to actually look after any elephants and certainly not one with Anne’s complex care requirements.
“Anne would be their first and only elephant.”
Jon Merrington, Head of Safari at Longleat, added “The importance is the distinction with what’s right for Anne the elephant, versus what’s right for an elephant.
“Anne has got a very specific set of circumstances; she’s a very old lady and she’s got arthritis that comes with old age.”
Anne lives in a custom-built enclosure which Longleat says provides her with all the creature comforts she needs to live out the rest of her years comfortably.
A second elephant could be brought to Wiltshire to keep Anne company, but Longleat wants to avoid the possibility of having to halve Anne’s enclosure if the pair do not get along and have to be separated.
They deny the decision to keep their most famous animal is financially motivated, pointing out that the paying public often can’t even see Anne and that her heating bill alone is £20,000 a year.
Anne’s severe health issues mean she is exempt from the guidance issued by the UK Elephant Welfare Group which says elephants should have constant contact with others of their kind.
The government-backed British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) has moved to support Longleat’s decision to push back against the mounting pressure.
They told ITV News: “In Anne’s case we are satisfied they are providing a good home for an elephant in a unique situation following from her difficult background circumstances.
“Anne is inspected regularly by independent DEFRA-appointed elephant expert inspectors; these inspections show they are really pleased with the care provided by Longleat and the progress Anne is making.”