January 15, 2016

In October of 2014, my daughter and myself, had the privilege of spending a weekend at PAWS elephant sanctuary, in San Andreas California. People who are familiar with issues surrounding captive and abused elephants from the exotic and preforming trades, will recognize the name Ed Stewart. Ed has worked tirelessly since 1984 to alleviate the suffering of captive wildlife. PAWS ARK 2000 sanctuary, is a testament to his hard work and devotion to elephants and other wildlife he has taken in and rescued. We were welcomed by himself and his wonderful team.

At PAWS, they use “non-dominance” methods to train their elephants. Their elephants are always positively rewarded (aka given a treat) for doing a behavior, but never negatively reinforced. The keepers need the elephants to rest their feet on an elevated bar so they can shave their toes and clean their feet to avoid infections. See photo below as one of PAWS elephants gets a pedicure.


Below is Thika. She was transferred from the Toronto Zoo along with two other elephants, Iringa and Toka, on October of 2013, to PAWS sanctuary. Both Iringa and Toka  had been living at the Toronto Zoo since the 1970’s. Thika was born at the Zoo in 1980.  They were lucky enough to be sent to live out the rest of their lives at PAWS. Unfortunately, Iringa has since passed away due to her many years of joint and foot disease. The picture on the right is Thika coming to say hi to us. Such a wonderful experience!


Below, Gypsy is enjoying her vegetation, and giving us some insight into her days in the circus (a place she surely does not miss) by balancing on the wire fence.


There were two male (bull) elephants at the sanctuary, one of which was Prince. I think he thought I had treats to give him.


In the picture below, you will see my daughter Andrea, and a big bull behind her. His name is Nicolas and he weighs 10,000 pounds – the largest bull in the sanctuary… and he is still growing! He was luckily saved from the circus industry at the age of five, where he was made to ride tricycles and do handstands.


Our two days were full of excitement and learning!   We were taught the differences between African and Asian elephants, and the special handling required for a bull like Nicholas. Demonstrations on foot care, as in the picture above, and positive reinforcement techniques used to deal with medical problems were just some of the things we were taught. What resonated with us the most was the uniqueness of each elephant. Learning how to approach each elephant as an individual with respect to their needs and behaviours was an eye opening experience. How each and every one of them had suffered greatly from their life in captivity and the residual effects still haunting them from those captive years. We found an even deeper desire to fight for these majestic creatures along with Ed Stewart and many other organizations. What would life be without elephants?

We would highly suggest a visit to PAWS for an adventure into the life of an elephant and an adventure of a lifetime!

Fran and Andrea Duthie / Co-founders of Elephanatics






%d bloggers like this: