Perth, summer 2009. I was watching a performance by Bobby Roberts Super Circus in a council park.
I knew that the local authority did not permit the use of wild animals on its land. Yet there was Anne the elephant, shuffling into the big top during the interval to have her photograph taken with the public for £5 a picture.
I wasn’t surprised. The same thing had happened two years ago in Kilmarnock. OneKind (then Advocates for Animals) and the Captive Animals’ Protection Society had asked the local council not to give the circus a licence to perform in the town.
Although not prepared to withhold the licence, the council did stipulate that Anne was not to be used in performance. But there, too, I had seen this elderly animal brought out to amuse the public by eating a bit of candyfloss, and to earn a few pounds from photographs.
Over the last couple of years, we have monitored the progress of this circus on its regular summer tour of lowland Scotland. We have reported apparent breaches of licences, breaches of leases and breaches of the law to local authorities.
Just last year, I watched Anne being loaded into her trailer, where she would no doubt be shackled in the dark, at 4 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon.The circus moved on, and I watched for Anne being unloaded. It was 1 o’clock the next day before she was finally brought out into the daylight again. We reported this as a breach of the animal transport regulations, but the circus explained to council officers that they had kept her on the trailer “as it was raining”.
As an investigator, I know how hard it is to get evidence about what is happening inside any animal operation, especially a circus. So in addition to identifying and documenting what we believed were breaches of conditions, we also told the authorities why the circus life was no life for any animal, least of all a wild animal. Constant travelling, cramped conditions, confinement, tethering and shackling, being made to perform pointless, unnatural tricks – we could prove all that.
Within the last several years, two other well known circuses - Chipperfield’s and the Great British Circus - have been exposed for their connection with elephant abuse. It seems whenever a camera is set up to observe elephants working inside a British circus, the results are the same, recording after recording of elephant beatings, with staff using iron bars, pitch forks, heavy sticks, metal hooks, fists and feet.
But there was no such evidence of abuse in the Bobby Roberts Circus and to a large extent our other, documented concerns fell on deaf ears until the dramatic expose by our brave colleagues in Animal Defenders International that has literally shocked the world.
Although heartbreaking to watch, it appeared to me that the abuser in the new film was beating Anne quite openly, not looking around first to see if anybody was watching. Other circus staff could be seen spitting in the face of a camel and beating horses and ponies. This last exposé was what was needed, and I just hope that it makes the politicians listen.
Because even if Anne is re-homed to live out her few remaining years in a more peaceful setting, she is not the only one. Tethered near her, I used to see Monty the camel, who didn’t even perform but was exhibited in the small menagerie tent, which the public could visit for a fee.
As an animal investigator I appreciate the hard work that went into obtaining that film footage at the Bobby Roberts winter quarters. I myself have seen abuse in British animal circuses and understand the need to uncover such atrocities towards these fine, majestic and defenceless animals.
The investigators have done their jobs and now I feel it is time for the politicians to decide that we have no place in our modern society for wild animal circuses.
If you live elsewhere in the UK please take action here.