Controversial hook is ‘right’ for Anne the elephant
Keepers looking after former circus elephant Anne have defended their continued use of a controversial metal hook, known as an ankus, after complaints from animal rights activists.
And Jon Cracknell, the director of animals at Longleat’s safari and adventure park, has admitted he was ‘naive’ in agreeing to give evidence for the defence last year in the trial of the circus owners who abused Anne.
Last week, Longleat finally unveiled plans for a new elephant sanctuary for Anne – and as many as three other rescued elephants – almost two years after she was brought to the Wiltshire attraction in a hail of publicity.
Undercover video footage shot by activists exposed the abuse she was suffering at the hands of keepers at a circus, and Longleat offered her emergency accommodation in an elephant house last used almost ten years ago.
Since then, Anne’s recuperation has been remarkable, but she still shows signs of being mentally scarred from her years of abuse.
Animal rights activists continue to keep tabs on her progress, and some have been vociferously critical about the use of ankuses on her. The ankus is placed on the sensitive parts of an elephant’s skin to control it.
Mr Cracknell said Longleat did not support use of the ankus in an “unacceptable fashion” by unskilled keepers. He said Longleat’s elephant house was designed to be operated as a ‘free contact’ system, in which keepers use the ankus as a guide or a tool to manage trained elephants.
“Free contact has allowed rapid management of Anne’s specific problems,” he added. “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 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.”
Mr Cracknell said the decision to use the ankus “was not taken lightly and undergoes regular ethical review”.
He added: “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.”
He also admitted he was ‘naive’ to become involved in the trial of the circus owners convicted of abusing Anne, but said he had no choice.
He had been criticised by some militant animal rights activists for appearing for the defence as a ‘non-biased’ expert witness.
He said he was naive in not knowing he could refuse to attend.
But he said he had since been informed by the court that if he had not attended, he might have received a summons or faced arrest.