THE circus owners at the centre of an elephant abuse scandal have spoken of their “devastation and shock” at seeing undercover video footage of the elderly animal being beaten, as a police investigation was launched.
Bobby and Moira Roberts, aged 72 and 68 respectively, of Bobby Roberts Super Circus, based in Northamptonshire, told the Chronicle & Echo they were horrified when they discovered Britain’s last circus elephant, Annie had been filmed being struck with a metal pitchfork, kicked in the face and body, and shackled by heavy chains in the winter quarters of their circus.
The images of the arthritic 57-year-old Asian elephant being beaten 48 times, have created a media furore after pressure group Animal Defenders International (ADI) filmed and released the covert video.
A tearful Mrs Roberts, said: “I can’t put into words how upset we are about this. I never seen Bobby like this in the whole of our 45 years of married life; he is absolutely distraught.
“We trusted that boy [Annie’s carer], we showed him how to look after that animal properly, it just seems completely out of character he would treat her like this.
“There were never any marks so we had no idea it was going on.
“I don’t understand why these campaigners didn’t tell us earlier so this could be stopped. They were filming for weeks and they could have put an end to it as soon as they saw it happening.
“Annie is fine now. We had our vet check her out as soon as possible. We are horrified this has happened to her.”
Mrs Roberts said a Romanian groom employed to care for the animal had since disappeared. She said: “I presume he is on his way back to where he came from.
“We wish we had been given the opportunity to prosecute him and hand him over to the police.”
Northamptonshire Police has released a statement saying that they were conducting a joint investigation into the matter with the RSPCA.
Animal rights campaigners have now called for a ban on the use of all wild animals in circuses
The ADI, which has previously campaigned for Annie to be released from the circus, said it shot the video amid concerns for Annie’s wellbeing.
Jan Creamer, ADI’s chief executive, said: “Annie’s tragic story symbolises the plight of circus animals and is a shocking indictment of the circus industry at a key time as government considers a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses.
“ADI has been concerned for Annie’s welfare for many years and have followed her tragic plight. Poor Annie has been with the circus for over 50 years since she was baby, having been caught in the wild.
“Elephants are social and extremely intelligent so this has been a living hell for her.”
A petition to help Annie has been set up at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/free-annie-the-asian-elephant