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Almost 400,000 people have signed a petition demanding 'Britain’s loneliest elephant' be re-homed to a sanctuary in central France.
Anne is currently being cared for at Longleat Safari Park near Warminster, Wiltshire, but she has not seen another elephant in almost two decades.
Animal activists want her to be moved from Wiltshire to Elephant Haven in Limousin so she can mix with other elephants. In the wild, females live in large family herds.
Adrian Lanfear, a former Longleat employee and the man behind the petition, said: “She probably believes she’s the last elephant in existence."
Anne, the UK’s last circus elephant, was rescued by Longleat in 2011 after Animal Defenders International exposed footage 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.
Campaigners say the warmer climate in France will be kinder to Anne’s arthritis and living with other elephants will improve her quality of life. But Longleat argues 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, a claim disputed by Elephant Haven.
In a statement, the Longleat 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." Elephant Haven has been in development since 2012 and says in response that it is now ready to welcome Anne, followed by other elephants.
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 says it 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.
“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.”
Campaigners from Action for Elephants, Global Elephant Sanctuary, Born Free and Four Paws want Anne to be inspected by representatives from outside the zoo sector. They and others have detailed their positions in a series of open letters to Longleat.