CIRCUS bosses today defended themselves against an animal rights group which wants South Tynesiders to boycott the show.
The Captive Animals’ Protection Society (Caps) have urged people to avoid the Bobby Roberts Super Circus, which opens in Whitburn tonight.
It follows allegations of mistreatment, after video footage was released last year appearing to show circus elephant, Anne, being beaten by a worker.
However, the family today spoke out to defend the show.
Bobby’s wife, Moira Roberts, said: “Bobby and his family have been running this circus for 60 years, and it’s been really hard over the last 20 years because of all the accusations – but Bobby has never shown the animals anything but kindness.”
Anne, 59, had been with the circus since she was three. She suffers from arthritis and now lives in the Longleat Safari Park, Wiltshire.
Mrs Roberts said: “We love Anne and we miss her every day. She wasn’t taken from us, we chose to retire her after a long search for a suitable home.
“We didn’t look at Anne like an elephant – she was part of the family and one of our kids.
“Bobby loved her as well, he had her even longer than he had me. If any of the animals were ever sick, he would stay up with them all night to make sure they were fine.
“One of the vets at Longleat examined Anne and said we must have been doing something right because, apart from the arthritis, she was in extremely good health for an elephant of her age.
“In fact, she’s the oldest elephant in Europe.”
The two-hour circus show, at Wheathall Farm, Mill Lane, includes nine minutes of animals performing, featuring domesticated horses and ponies. It runs until Sunday.
“Our animals are checked over all the time.
“They spend more time with vets than the Queen’s horses do,” Mrs Roberts added.
“They’re exercised every day and kept in the right conditions.
“I’ve always thought Bobby had something special with animals. They respond to him in a brilliant way, and it shows how much they love him.”
The family said they receive abusive e-mails and telephone calls on a daily basis, and some sites they were due to visit have revoked their invitation due to pressure from activist groups.
Caps said a recent scientific study concluded that circuses fail to provide some of the most basic welfare needs of wild animals such as space and social groups.
Caps director Liz Tyson said: “We sincerely hope that the use of wild animals in circuses will soon be a thing of the past in this country, and that this could well be the last season that the circuses are legally able to use animals, such as lions, tigers and zebras in the ring.
“In the meantime, we encourage people to avoid any circus that continues to use animals in their performances and, instead, visit one of the fantastic shows with an all-human cast.”