Your Guide to the Reality of Animal Circus

"The academic panel concluded that there appears to be little evidence to demonstrate that the welfare of animals kept in travelling circuses is any better or worse than that of animals kept in other captive environments" - Executive Summary of the DEFRA Circus Working Group 2007

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Thursday, 26 February 2015

Lions Are For Life, Not Just For Fundraising

For those of you who follow these pages the animal-rights business Animal Defenders International (ADI) needs no introduction, British-based and set up by anti-vivisectionists including ADI's President and founder *Jan Creamer and her partner Tim Phillips. The business actively campaigns against the use of wild animals and amongst its targets are zoos, wildlife parks, animals in entertainment and film and, of course, animals in circuses.

Their most recent appeal has been for the sum of £200,000 recently highlighted in a news article in the U.K.'s Mirror newspaper.  The raised money is for the means to sustain and then transport a number of lions from Peru to an 'animal sanctuary' in the United States.

Perhaps the first glaring inaccuracy in the opening paragraph of the article in The Mirror is a statement that Animal Defenders International are a charity. They are not. ADI defend their position for not registering themselves as a charity in the United Kingdom because it would constrain them to follow the rules and regulations of the Charities Commission which would include political lobbying. Moreover, as a registered charity, they would be obligated to be very open about their accounts and other business dealings.  Nonetheless, they do have a number of companies listed with Company House, which allows some insight into their dealings and finances; ADI and its affiliates (the National Anti-Vivisection Society, and the Lord Dowding Fund for Humane Research) published their income for 2013 at £1,870,789.

As stated, their most recent fundraising endeavours is to rehome 21 former circus lions.  Of course, ADI paint themselves as the saviours and rescuers of these animals but the actual facts are a little bit more complicated. 
Boasting offices in both the UK and America, ADI have now moved their interests into South America and set up an office in Bogotá, Colombia. Here they have been able to persuade local politicians in both Colombia and Peru to ban animals in circuses. This has naturally resulted in animals within these circuses to have been made redundant and by default homeless. And whilst this is something which ADI directly orchestrated it appears they do not wish take direct financial responsibility for this predictable outcome.  Moreover, despite assets worth nearly £2 million, ADI once again brings out its begging bowl and now expects the gullible public to fund its contrived animal rescue to the sum of £200,000.

Perhaps a most revealing aspect regarding ADI's activities in areas such as South America is a contention as to whether or not they are truly honest brokers as regards the welfare of animals. It may be the case that the conditions for both wild and domestic animals in various countries may be poor or not of standards, we would expect to see in countries such as the United Kingdom.

However, most reputable animal welfare organisations would try to improve the immediate situation for the animals and encourage the owners and operators of animal enterprises to cooperate with government and encourage the introduction of legally binding standards and regulations for the welfare of animals. It should be only after the failure to attain any kind of standard of animal welfare within a regulatory framework that outright prohibition should be considered.

What seems to be the problem for ADI (and many other groups) is their ideological mindset which when it comes to things like animal circuses there appears to be no compromise and only a ban would satisfy them.

This in itself goes against the actual evidence regarding the research into the welfare of circus animals in countries such as the United Kingdom; such research has revealed that circuses with animals can operate at a level that does not compromise welfare. Therefore, the banning of such enterprises should be viewed as an unfair overreaction to a situation where sensible legislation and not banning would successfully resolve any concerns as to the welfare of animals within such enterprises.

The striving for bans and other prohibited sanction is very telling as regards the true intent and ideological zeal of members of the animal-rights movement such as ADI. These groups have no interest in reasoned negotiation and compromise for them it is: "either their way or the highway". These groups live within a narrow prism of ideological reality where any form of conciliation to their political ideals is impossible to accommodate.

Which brings us neatly to the issue of the animal-rights movement and their obsession with their "animal sanctuaries".

Somewhat ironically, The Mirror ran a poll to gauge public sentiment on animals in circuses to accompany the ADI story.  The result was not what ADI would like to see and makes a mockery of their claim that 95% of the public are against animals in circuses.  More on this issue HERE

Why Sanctuaries and not Zoos?
Perhaps one of the most interesting developments within the remit of Animal Defenders International and other animal-rights organisations is their interest and support in the rising phenomena of animals sanctuaries rather than trying to relocate rescued animals to traditional zoological collections. The reason for these associations is quite straightforward as the majority (if not all) of animal sanctuaries are in some way partly or totally controlled by supporters of the animal-rights industry. And to this end fully support the objectives of groups such as ADI which many zoological collections would have problems in fully cooperating with.
Perhaps a glaring example of this situation was the storyof the former circus elephant Anne who became the subject of a controversial clandestinely undercover operation organised and run by ADI. The group organised undercover filming of this retired animal in the winter quarters of circus entrepreneur Bobby Roberts. The filming over a number of weeks showed an employee of Mr Roberts, a Romanian citizen Nicolai Nitu, hitting the elephant on a number of occasions.

The resultant video footage was collated over 25 days and then carefully edited together by ADI and placed it on its website and distributed to the press. By the time the case against Mr Roberts came to court the groom who had beaten Anne had disappeared back to Romania. Therefore, he could not be directly charged with cruelty towards the elephant and Mr Roberts was found culpable and was given a three-year conditional discharge.

However, the judge stated: 
"...You [Mr Roberts] are a man who has not previously been convicted of any offence and it is to your credit that you have cared for and managed animals for the greater part of your 70 years without criticism from any quarter..."
After the court case, ADI and various other animal-rights lobby groups plotted to obtain Anne from Bobby Roberts. However, Anne was examined by various experienced wild animals vets and a the Robert's made the decision to handover Anne's ownership to a charitable trust and retire her to Longleat Safari Park which had accommodation suitable for elephants.  It was at this point where ADI's tenuous relationship with the zoos involved in Anne's rescue and retirement broke down. There then followed acrimonious statements both on ADI's website and in their press statements:
  • ADI maintained that Anne's move to Longleat was only to be temporary and that they were going to be consulted on the animal being moved to a sanctuary of their choice;
  • They accuse Longleat of not primarily being an institution of animal welfare but entertainment;
  • They were aggrieved that Longleat's director Dr Jonathan Cracknell (with a specialised knowledge in the husbandry of elephants) had appeared in the defence of Bobby Roberts and made a statement that he believed Bobby Roberts had cared for the elephant to the best of his ability under the circumstances;
  • Finally they maintained that the Park continue to operate a hands-on policy with the elephant something that ADI disapproved of despite the fact that this Animal Defenders International has absolutely no knowledge or experience in the care of elephants.
Longleat refuted these alleagtions in a full and length statement produced below.  Since this statement Anne has been moved to her purpose built accommodation.
Anne the Elephant - Latest Update
14 February 2013 at 14:44

Many thanks to everyone’s emails or comments. It is good to see that people are so passionate about Anne the Asian elephant and continue to care for her well being. We, here at Longleat Safari and Adventure Park are heartened by the positive comments and support for the new elephant sanctuary and the positive feedback on her continued rehabilitation programme. However we have our critics and it is good that individuals or groups challenge what we do here at Longleat to ensure that we do not take things for granted. We accept, and have always openly discussed, the advantages and disadvantages of the process that we have employed here over the last two years in rehabilitating Anne. We have invested heavily, both financially and with our time, leading to the development of a dedicated team of keepers, veterinarians, holistic therapist, an osteopath combined with input from several welfare groups and zoological bodies advising us on best practice and how we can improve things for Anne. We have taken on board all of these elements and tailor made a programme that has supported her and allowed her to develop both mentally and physically. We understand that we will not meet all of the requirements that people expect Anne to have but we equally will not develop programmes that are determined to meet the needs of public perception or the political agenda of certain groups. Rather we have chosen to have evidence based, structured and financially sound programmes that meet Anne’s needs and develop her physical and rehabilitation programmes. We have reached a stage where Anne’s physically ability has vastly improved from when she arrived and we struggle hard each and every day to maintain this level of improvement for her to continue with a high quality of life.
 Anne is an intelligent elephant, she is extremely smart and tests anyone, be it animal or man that comes into contact with her. She has seen the world and had a variety of experiences, both good and bad, which have made her who she is today. People perceive her to be a beautiful and gentle creature and most of the time she is. I would not even pretend to know Anne and I see her regularly, and even her keepers have not totally got to know and understand her, yet they have a rapport with her that only Anne and they know. For people who have never even seen her but have an opinion on her behaviour, her personality, how she is feeling and what her drivers are make unfair claims and it is inappropriate that such “elephant” generalisations are made in the case of Anne. She is an individual with individual needs, some of which are general elephant needs, some of which are specific to Anne and to this end we have spent the last two years attempting to understand her and what her needs are, both physically and mentally.
It is widely known that we have been planning a new sanctuary since her arrival, for her but also for elephants in similar circumstances that need a better quality of life. Critics have claimed that we, as an organisation, have been painfully slow in delivering the new sanctuary. I can see why it maybe perceived that this is the case. The actual funds raised for the new elephant facility are secure and remain unspent as they are ring fenced solely for the use in building the elephant facility and not for any other developments here at Longleat. Outside of this fund Longleat have spent a total of circa £250,000 on Anne since she arrived in 2011. Anne has the relatively new paddock which she can use as her physiotherapy programme develops under the guidance of an animal osteopath, we have a new hay barn dedicated to her food storage, we have a new shelter going in for the spring, she has elephant sized scratching posts and new feed facilities located within the current facility. These come at a price, which we are more then happy to further spend on her wellbeing. To say that improvements have been painfully slow is inaccurate. She does not have the planned new facility yet but this is a lengthy process due to constraints of planning legislation as well as Longleat being a Grade 1 listed estate. We also have considerable conservation and heritage legislative issues to manage that include sites of specialist scientific interest and English Heritage conservation programmes that need to be developed as part of the planning submission due to the historic nature of Longleat’s Estate. This is now complete and people will be able to see the proposed plans within the next few weeks when they are submitted. On top of this is the fact that any new elephant facility costs millions of pounds, and, whilst her fans have been extremely generous we only raised a fraction of the estimated cost for phase one of the new facility for her and other elephants like her in the EU. Longleat will fund the additional cost.  This I would agree is a slow process and as such could be perceived as a failing by Longleat. However I would argue that we need to get this right as we will never get another chance to build this facility or correct it if we get it wrong. We have spent a long time in the planning process on the new elephant facility and will be building a phased build to allow for the funding issues to be addressed and to satisfy developments in elephant husbandry.
We have been criticised for putting Anne on display and using her to generate revenue. It is true that Anne is extremely popular and it is likely that some visitors do come to see her but from the start we were very clear that she was not be used as a media puppet. Anne has had several stories written about her as an individual highlighting her plight and rehabilitation. Many charities and celebrities have wanted to pose with Anne for their websites or for their own press coverage and we have limited or prevented this where it was deemed inappropriate or did not support the story of her or others like her. Anne’s paddocks are on display to the public but to take her off display would mean that she was shut in 24 hours a day and this is not an option that we will ever do, to even consider it is ridiculous. Anne has the choice to be in or out and visitors are often disappointed because she has chosen to be inside. We have been accused of undermining the efforts of others to prevent the suffering of elephants and other animals in similar situations, yet we work with reputable welfare groups on many elephant and other welfare projects globally, often not promoting our own interests but letting the charities utilise our skills and capabilities to ensure support and assistance is given where it is needed.

 The other major current criticism is the use of ankuses: We have an elephant house that is adequate but was built over a decade ago and was designed to be operated as a free contact system. Free contact is one of the two main systems deployed to manage elephants. It involves keepers going in with animals and using the ankus as a guide or a tool to manage trained elephants. In well documented cases it has been used by unskilled or inexperienced keepers in an unacceptable fashion and this has led to serious injury or in some cases abuse. This is obviously unacceptable and we at Longleat do not support this in any way shape or form. The principles of free contact and the philosophy behind this type of management regime is not one that Longleat agrees with in principle, however it has had advantages in the current house and for the initial needs of Anne. Free contact has allowed rapid management of Anne’s specific problems: working with her team of rehabilitators we achieved a much faster improvement in her physical condition, albeit at the potential risk of her mental condition. We felt that this, combined with the limitations of the house, was in her best interest in the long term. We acknowledge that our critics recognise that we are not abusing her physically with the ankus, however there are concerns that its use may lead to mental suffering and her reflection on her previous torment. We really don’t have any evidence whether it does or does not: we monitor her responses repeatedly through the review of her 24hour CCTV footage, using internal and independent analysis, combined with ankus use being limited to periods of health care or when moving her from the house to her paddock as seen in some of the recent photos presented on our facebook page. We are sensitive to the needs of Anne and the possible consequences of ankus use but she responds to it no differently to anything else in her environment. My personal belief is that elephants are individuals and that some elephants will respond and reflect on a previous life, showing signs of fear but others, as individuals, have the ability to move on and recognise that they are not going to be hit or compromised in anyway. This is the same as seen in other intelligent species, including man, that have experienced forms of abuse. Our use of the ankus is not as a tool of dominion, as in other cases, but more akin to that of a lead rope on a horse, used to guide her in the right direction and communicate what we need Anne to do so we can treat her or support her in her rehabilitation. This decision was not taken lightly and undergoes regular ethical review, we feel it is the right thing for her now, in her current situation and the more we have got to know and love Anne we feel she does not resent us for that decision. However that does not mean that we want to stay in free contact forever. As the world will see when the new plans are released the new house will allow a protected contact system to be employed. A protected contact system allows elephants to choose to interact or not, using targets rather then ankuses. We have worked with many groups over the last two years and we feel that this is the right decision in the long term and that the new sanctuary will have the facilities to employ this management technique to best effect. We have never hidden the fact that we use ankuses, the way we use them nor the fact that they have been essential to allow us to safely rehabilitate her. This decision is mine and comments of their use in the care of Anne should be aimed at me, not to my excellent team of keepers, nor their families, without whom we would not have got Anne to where she is now. I have utter faith and confidence in my staff and judge them on who they are, their capability to do their job and their caring attitudes to animals in the park. Anne is testament to their care, love and skill.
Here at Longleat, we are pleased with the condition that Anne is currently in. We have put a huge amount of hard work in to getting her to where she is now and this effort is reflected in her condition and the continued progress that she makes each and every day. We accept that she is an old lady and that she has pathology that will never be able to be repaired but we feel we manage this effectively and that she has a high quality of life. An area of focus that we feel is important is the comparison of her previous management and condition to where she is now. All we can comment on, and have ever commented on, is Anne’s condition from the day she arrived. We have not seen any evidence of her previous treatment except in the initial video released by the charity ADI. There have been many comments of evidence and behavioural studies but we have yet to be shown any, prior to her arrival here. We would welcome any parties that have any video or photographic evidence to forward it on to us. There have been many comments about her previous life, both true and some hearsay, what we are looking for is objective, documented evidence of her previous life. We now know what she does on a daily basis, we have this recorded daily and every minute of her life is documented. What we don’t know is what it was like before. We can manage the tangible physical elements of her rehabilitation but we cannot fully manage the mental aspects. We have a standard, generic approach to this and provide a loving, caring home for her but to truly manage Anne and give her the best home possible we need your help in providing any documented information that you may have.

We have our critics, both informed and misinformed. This is an emotional subject, with people at different ends of the spectrum with various views of elephants in captivity. We believe, as many of our supporters do, that we are doing the best possible with modern techniques for Anne and we will continue to do so for the rest of her life.  We saw her plight and we removed her from her situation within 6 days of it being brought to our attention; we have and continue to strive, in an open and honest fashion, for the best for this old lady and we are proud of what we have and continue to provide for Anne. We will never be able to satisfy all of our critics because we have an elephant in captivity and that is not to everyone’s taste. However whilst there are still elephants in captivity, and elephants that need a sanctuary, we will be there to help them and we will invest our time, money and souls in ensuring that these loving creatures are given the best chance they can. At Longleat we believe in actions, not words.

 Jonathan Cracknell BVMS CertVA CertZooMed MRCVS
 14th February 2013

Astley's Legacy was formed to counter the misinformation and propaganda spread by animal rights activists. As well as fighting the corner for circus animals and their trainers, we are here to promote and celebrate the cultural heritage of circus in general, and especially in the country of its birth - Great Britain. For more information please see our Facebook group
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