Blog: old elephants and new lessons

Posted: 23rd February, 2022

Jon Merrington, Head of Safari at Longleat, gives us an insight into the important care Longleat’s elephant, Anne receives and how this might improve the lives of elephants in similar situations out in Asia.

11 years ago, when the decision was made to rehome the last circus elephant in the UK (an Asian elephant named Anne) to our park we committed to providing her with a home in which to retire, without exploitation or commercial gain of any kind. I am proud that we have not only upheld that commitment, but we are now in a privileged position to help elephants in other parts of the world.

Anne’s exact age is not known however it is believed from piecing together various records she is likely to be in her late 60’s and the oldest elephant in Europe. Anne has a number of age-related conditions such as osteoarthritis, particularly in her back legs. Through her dedicated team of keepers and veterinarians, significant advances have been made over the years in terms of her body condition, skin condition and use of her trunk however there is of course no cure for arthritis and other conditions that come with old age.

Similarly to human care, in the latter years of life, what is important is the management of these conditions to alleviate symptoms and keep the animal as comfortable as possible. Since Anne’s arrival, in addition to her ongoing veterinary care and prescribed medication, Longleat has partnered with Tony Nevin from Zoo Ost with the objective of using osteopathy to manipulate and massage her muscles and joints to promote blood flow, reduce muscle tension and increase mobility of her joints.

In addition to the relationship Anne has with her keepers, Tony and Anne have built up a great connection based upon mutual trust in which the elephant actively chooses to participate in treatment. The results of the treatment Tony has provided are a testament to their relationship.

Over the years in which Tony has been treating Anne he has developed extensive knowledge of Anne’s specific health and mobility issues and been able to tailor techniques towards this very unique geriatric elephant.  

Based on this specific treatment plan that has developed for Anne, Longleat, in partnership with Tony Nevin, are now about to embark on an exciting project. The same non-invasive osteopathic techniques and programmes which have benefitted Anne, can now hopefully be used to help other elephants with similar conditions out in their home ranges in South East Asia.

Longleat will initially be funding Tony to travel to countries such as Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam where he has created and nurtured a network of non-government organisations (NGO’s) to deliver the aim of improving elephant welfare and care in range state countries.

In these regions there are many elephants in need of specialised treatment following rehabilitation from situations of abuse or circumstances in which they have not been able to receive the appropriate care. Longleat, as an organisation privileged to care for an elephant, has a responsibility to pass on what we learn and create a better world for elephants everywhere.

Much work is already being undertaken in South East Asia to improve the welfare of elephants there. To expand this good work this project will add weight by delivering and teaching basic osteopathic care to existing and future generations of elephant professionals. In the long term the hope is that this project will create a legacy that is able to build its own momentum and inspire future generations to build upon our work in the care of elephants.      

We’re thrilled to be supporting such a project and whilst Anne can’t tell us herself, I’m sure she would be proud that she is an ambassador for her species and to know other elephants in Asia are benefitting from the specialist care she receives at Longleat.

By Jon Merrington, Head of Safari at Longleat

All blogs reflect the views of their author and are not a reflection of BIAZA's positions.