CIRCUS owners have defended keeping an elderly elephant after an animal rights group called on Andover to boycott the show next week.

The Captive Animals' Protection Society (CAPS) said it was concerned about the health of Anne, a 55-year-old elephant transported with the Bobby Roberts Circus and thought to be the last circus elephant in Britain.

She no longer performs in the circus but Craig Redmond, CAPS campaigns manager, maintains: "Anne is not a family pet as the circus claims. She is an elderly arthritic animal whose health can surely not benefit by being carted around the country."

But Moira Roberts, wife of circus owner Bobby, said: "This is very, very upsetting. We run a professional and legal business but it's always this that makes the news.

"Anne is 55 and she's been part of the family for 51 of those 55 years. There's no doubt in my mind that if she was anywhere other than the circus, she would pine, be distressed and die."

Mr Redmond however claimed Anne was not retired. "She is transported with the circus and people can pay to have their photo taken alon-gside her. The circus has also rented her out for use in TV ads."

Mr Roberts agre-ed Anne did have her photograph taken with people and was involved in the occasional advert, but it wasn't taxing and it went towards her upkeep.

When the Andover Advertiser visited Anne she was peacefully grazing on the recreation ground in Marlborough, where the circus was due to open this week.

Of animal rights groups Mr Roberts said: "Everyone is entitled to their opinion but half the time they're only interested in publicity."

Bobby Roberts Circus will be at Walworth Sports Ground, Andover, from Tuesday to Sunday.