Anne the elephant has captured the nation’s attention and concern. Following the release of undercover footage showing Anne being chained and beaten she has finally been ‘retired’ from the Bobby Roberts circus.
Many people will no doubt have been surprised, and likely shocked, to learn that it is still legal for circuses to use elephants in the UK. And rightly so.
Elephants are truly magnificent and fascinating animals. They share many traits with us humans. They have the same lifespan of about 70 years, and develop at a parallel pace so that at any given age a baby elephant duplicates its human counterpart, reaching adulthood at the age of around twenty.
They also have many additional attributes we humans lack, such as incredible long range infrasound. They communicate in voices we never hear, with such sophisticated hearing that even a footfall is heard far away. They also have a memory that far surpasses ours and spans a lifetime.
I have previously reported on their intelligent behaviour and their ability to cooperate with each other. However, elephants are not only bright, they are also highly social and emotional creatures.
World elephant expert Daphne Sheldrick D.B.E explains: “Elephants also display many of the attributes of humans as well as some of the failings. They share with us a strong sense of family and death and they feel many of the same emotions. Each one is, of course, like us, a unique individual with its own unique personality. They can be happy or sad, volatile or placid. They display envy, jealousy, throw tantrums and are fiercely competitive, and they can develop hang-ups which are reflected in behaviour.”
Daphne continues: “They grieve deeply for lost loved ones, even shedding tears and suffering depression. They have a sense of compassion that projects beyond their own kind and sometimes extends to others in distress. They help one another in adversity, miss an absent loved one, and when you know them really well, you can see that they even smile when having fun and are happy.”
Scientists and wildlife film-makers have observed and documented countless hours of elephant behaviour showing many of the emotions Daphne refers to. Here is just a small selection of some of this footage.
Family members get extremely excited at the arrival of a new addition:
The bond between a mother and her baby is especially strong:
A family pulls together to look out for vulnerable member:
Finally, this short film explores the deep emotional impact of stress on elephants.
The more we understand about elephants' complex emotional lives the more we are obliged to give them better consideration when we interact with them. For example, it is clear that elephants belong in the wild not in captivity in circuses and zoos. If you’ve not already done so, please take a minute to support OneKind’s campaign to end the use of all wild animals in circuses.
Together we can make sure that no more elephants like Anne have to suffer in circuses.