BOBBY Roberts Super Circus has hit back at critics, including an animal rights group, over the treatment of its 54-year-old elephant, Anne.

The Captive Animal's Protection Society (CAPS) had urged the public to boycott the circus, which will perform at Herts County Showground, in Dunstable Road, Redbourn, this week, over its use of animals.

The group slated the circus for being one of just eight circuses in the UK to use animals, including horses, camels and an elephant. It argued that Anne was transported from site to site so that visitors could have their photo taken with her, despite the fact that she had arthritis.

Craig Redmond, CAPS campaigns manager, said: "CAPS is not opposed to circuses, only to the use of animals.

"In the 21st Century, there can be no excuse for continuing to allow the treatment of animals in this way."

However, circus manager Bobby Roberts refutes CAPS' and other critics' claims. He said: "We are surprised and saddened by the current campaign to retire' our elephant, Anne. She is a member of our family and we have grown up together.

"Our standards of animal husbandry are excellent, Anne gets the best possible veterinary care and is lovingly looked after. Allegations made about Anne's health, claiming she is in constant pain', are totally unfounded and completely untrue.

"Anne is retired from the circus ring and has been for some time. Our opinion is that if Anne was taken away from her familiar surroundings, and the company of those she loves, she would quite simply pine away and die."

Bobby's wife and circus administrator, Moira, said Anne was born in captivity and had been with the circus since she was four years old. She said that Anne had not performed for six years and only came into the ring in the interval so people could pose for photos with her.

Bobby added that veterinary surgeon Michael Fielding endorsed his views.

In a statement on the Bobby Roberts Circus website, Mr Fielding says: "I've worked with Mr Roberts and Anne for many years and animal welfare has always been of paramount importance in his circus.

"Anne has become habituated to the circus routine and there would be minimal benefit in moving her.

"She is an old animal requiring constant care, which I am fully confident she will get in her current home."