PAWS Wildlife Sanctuary - A Haven of Love

At PAWS, the livin' is easy

From Domination to Compassion

All wildlife should be kept in the wild, not held captive by people, according to Pat Derby and Ed Stewart, owners and operators of PAWS, the Performing Animal Welfare Society (  To house and care for captive animals who are victims of the exotic and performing animal trades, PAWS runs three sanctuaries in California.

Pat Derby, savior of animals

Although captive enclosures can never substitute for wild habitat, the sanctuaries are dedicated to providing the best possible quality of life. They provide environments as close to natural habitat as possible for the healthy, and special consideration for older and injured individuals that are evaluated and then monitored around the clock. Besides varied terrain to roam in and lakes to bathe in, there are also huge elephant barns equipped with heated stalls and therapeutic jacuzzis.  Pat and Ed have made it their ongoing mission to rescue those animals that can be saved from abusive situations and to provide them with the most up to date enrichments known for their lifetime care.

Ed Stewart shows off the Asian elephant fields

Pat and Ed teamed up in 1976 and have been working together for the welfare of wild animals in captivity ever since. They formed PAWS in 1984. They located PAWS initial operations in northern California south of Sacramento in the town of Galt, where they began construction of their first animal sanctuary. Because of the continued critical need for experienced care providers for abused and abandoned captive wildlife, later they would oversee the construction of a second sanctuary - which they named ARK 2000 -- in San Andreas, California, in the rolling hillsides of historic Calaveras County. A third sanctuary is also in operation in Herald, California, the Amanda Blake Memorial Wildlife Refuge.

I had an opportunity to visit the ARK 2000 facility and see some of its retired stars firsthand on a recent trip to a PAWS-sponsored event called The Elephant Summit   last month (April, 2009).

ARK 2000 is a state-of-the art 2,300-acre sanctuary for captive wildlife. Among its rescued inhabitants are Asian and African elephants. They reside in spacious habitats - with natural grasses and trees, rolling hills and pristine lakes, as well as two 20,000-square-foot elephant barns. ARK 2000 also provides safe haven to 35 tigers, rescued from a raid of an illegal commercial big-cat breeding facility. ( These beautiful tigers were raised only so they could slaughtered -  their body parts sold on the black market.)

African girls enjoy the fresh spring grasses

ARK 2000 currently has 10 elephants, which have been "retired" from circuses and zoos. Many of them have spent their whole lives beaten into submission and perpetually chained. As another cruel control measure, handlers routinely use the "bull hook," a sharp grappling instrument on a long pole. The animal is stressed further by simply having nothing but hard surfaces like cement to stand on, which, unlike the yielding earth, causes severe foot problems. In the wild, elephants can roam over hundreds of miles. So when they are held captive and made to stand still for long periods on hard surfaces, health problems that begin with foot disease may never be completely healed, even with the best care.

Pat Derby shows the inside of an elephant barn

Elephants are one of the most social and intelligent animals, and they have complex needs. Furthermore, they are among the most difficult to contain in an artificial environment, since it can't enable them to fully use the skills and attributes they have developed over thousands of years living in nature. The elephants at the ARK 2000 apparently relish their freedom to roam across hills and wade into ponds and lakes. Walking over the grassy, uphill-and-downhill terrain is very good for these creatures who were held static so long that they did not get a chance to develop their muscles. And all elephants need sand and mud to play in, and lots of water in which to bathe and drink. Besides these creature comforts, all elephants need to browse and forage for food, and they must also have the company of other family members.

Nicholas engages his muscles going downhill

Though most elephants in captivity have lost their original family groupings, the elephants at PAWS have the ability to socialize with other elephants and develop close social ties. I saw several elephant couples that are inseparable, and I don't mean as mates. Nine of the elephants are ARK 2000 are females. The tenth one, the most recent addition, is a male, and he brings special challenges.

Recently, PAWS created a special habitat for Nicholas, its first bull elephant. Bull elephants are the most difficult to manage because of their great strength, especially during elevated hormone levels when they go into the highly sexed state called musth. At any time, they need the freedom to wander and break away from the female herd, although they need to socialize, as well. Bulls suffer greatly in captivity, where they are primarily used for breeding. Because they don't perform and can be unruly, captive bulls are typically kept in chains or behind bars their whole lives.

Nick comes to say hello

At ARK 2000 the first roaming area for bull elephant Nick was completed just before he arrived. Areas designed for bulls require extra-heavy fencing outdoors, as well as extensive reinforcement inside the barn, and construction costs are very high. His first day out, Nicholas trumpeted excitedly, wandered throughout the meadow, sat in his fountain, and pulled a young tree right out of the ground!

Pat and Ed are now in the midst of a fundraising campaign, "Bucks for Bulls," to raise money for more fencing, greater roaming area for Nick, and space for another bull that may join him soon nearby. The candidate for this new spot is Ned, a frail old bull that is being treated temporarily at the Elephant Sanctuary ( in Tennessee that usually supports only females. When Ned is strong enough to travel, Pat and Ed intend for him to join Nick and the nine Asian and African girls at ARK 2000.

Gypsy (seen here) mothered Nick and they were rescued together

As Pat explains, it's not so easy to just move an animal, especially an elephant, to the sanctuary. Every move needs to be carefully planned, and prepared, and paid for. An early consideration is whether the animal should be moved at all. An older or sick animal might not survive a stressful journey. And no matter what its age, it will be uprooted from all it knows and has known. If there is a way to work with its present environment and assure there are no bull hooks, beatings, or other abuse, and if there is willingness on the part of its keepers to expand its roaming area, and if the location has a favorable climate, the animal may be better off staying where it is. So Pat maintains that it is often the best plan to try to fix the conditions of the captive habitat so that the elephant can live out its days in a familiar place.

Michelle Harvey helps take care of her old friend Maggie

One animal that had to be transported was Maggie, an African elephant that was living in an Alaskan zoo. She clearly did not belong in the snow, but the cost of relocating her from that harsh environment to California was $575,200. She was brought down in an Air Force C-17 cargo plane. Cranes, crates, and special trucks had to be provided on both ends of the journey. Luckily there was a happy ending for this girl, who walked into her new surroundings in San Andreas as if she were the queen. The happy ending is even happier because her keeper from Alaska, Michelle Harvey, is now working at PAWS and gets to spend time with her every day. And from Maggie's gleeful behavior, it's obvious that she enjoys hanging out with her new girlfriends.

Nick rests against the fence

Since the inception of PAWS and even before, Pat and Ed devoted themselves to advocacy efforts to help protect performing animals. During their first year, they wrote and launched bill AB 1962 in the California legislature. The bill mandates humane care for captive wildlife and has been signed into law. It was just the first in a series of state and federal legislative efforts initiated by PAWS to help better protect captive wildlife.

Pat's efforts for the animals actually started over four decades ago when as a professional actress she began co-starring with captive wildlife in movies and television commercials. While working on television series such as Lassie, Gunsmoke, Daktari and Flipper, Pat witnessed firsthand the severe neglect and abuse that was prevalent in animal training. Determined to initiate better standards of care and handling for performing animals, Pat chronicled her experiences in a Book-of-the Month Club autobiography, The Lady and Her Tiger. Her book was the first exposé of the treatment of performing animals, and in 1976 it won the American Library Association Award.

Soon after Ed met Pat, they opened and operated the Howling Wolf Lodge and Wild Animal Sanctuary in Leggett, California. Ed soon became involved in captive wildlife management and applied his skills to designing and constructing large-animal enclosures. He also became a tireless advocate for animal welfare at the California State Legislature and the Department of Fish and Game, where he lobbied tirelessly to ensure better care for exotic animals in entertainment.

Ed with Rebecca, "the sweetest elephant on earth"

Along with Pat, Ed and PAWS have promoted the cause of captive-animal welfare extensively in the national media -- on CNN, 20/20, Animal Planet, The Crusaders, Dateline, The Leeza Show, and The Montel Williams Show.  Ed is currently Director of Sanctuary Operations for PAWS' three sanctuaries, where he serves as PAWS animal care manager and trains staff and volunteer keepers with the proper care of captive wildlife.

PAWS and its founders have been the recipients of numerous awards. For example, Pat was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the In Defense of Animals ( organization in 2005.

Once a month when it's not too hot or too cold, there is an open house at the sanctuary where the public can make an appointment to view the animals and spend time with their very special managers. This is one of the society's many fundraising activities. There is always a great need for contributions to keep things going, and luckily wonderful philanthropist Bob Barker has been a huge supporter. Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin also have given much support, along with many other celebrities over the years who have realized that this is a cause worth trumpeting.

Georja and African beauties

I highly recommend a trip to beautiful Calaveras County and ARK 2000. It is a thrilling and educational experience. You can spend time with the wonderful Pat and Ed, and you can see up close elephants that seem contented and relaxed because they are not suffering or being mistreated in any way. These are magnificent, gentle creatures. (And, as I wrote in a previous LA Splash article, I hope Billy -- the LA  Zoo's lone bull elephant will soon be able to join them.)

Georja Umano is an actress/comedienne and animal advocate.

PAWS wildlife sanctuary ARK 2000
(209) 745 2606

Upcoming Events:

See The Elephants Getaway Packages
One and Two Day (including Bed and Breakfast) Tours
May 30
June 20
September 12
October 31
November 14

May Open House - May 9
Elephant Grape Stomp - October 17
Elephant and Tiger Holiday Open House - December 12

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