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Since 1984, The Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) has been at the forefront of efforts to rescue and provide appropriate, humane sanctuary for animals who have been the victims of the exotic and performing animal trades. PAWS investigates reports of abused performing and exotic animals, documents cruelty and assists in investigations and prosecutions by regulatory agencies to alleviate the suffering of captive wildlife.



The five elephant habitats at ARK 2000 provide the elephants with hundreds of acres of varied natural terrain to roam, lakes and pools to bathe in, and elephant barns equipped with heated stalls and a indoor therapy pool.
Learn More »




Above: African elephant Toka


It had to begin with elephants. . .

PAWS: 35 Years of

Elephant Advocacy and Care

As we look back over the last 35 years, there’s no arguing that elephants have always been a big part of PAWS’ work for captive wildlife. We have cared for 19 elephants throughout the years and advocated on behalf of many, many more. As the late Pat Derby, PAWS’ co-founder together with Ed Stewart, once wrote, “It had to begin with elephants. . .”

In 1986, PAWS established itself as the first elephant sanctuary in the United States with the rescue of a sickly female calf named “71” who was captured in Zimbabwe after her mother and family members were slaughtered in a cull. She was part of a large group of elephant calves imported to the U.S. in the 1980s by a fitness equipment magnate who kept the calves on his sprawling Florida property – and later sold them off to zoos and circuses. 71 was very ill, extremely underweight, and, without Pat and Ed’s intervention, most likely would have died. Sadly, 71 succumbed to pancreatitis in 2009, a condition linked to her early health problems and lack of proper nutrition.

Mara (pictured left with 71, circa 1992) was the next elephant to find sanctuary at PAWS in 1990, saved from being sold to a circus. She was followed by Tammy and Annie, two aging Asian elephants from the Milwaukee Zoo. PAWS had exposed a gruesome training video made by the zoo for which Tammy and Annie were tied down with ropes and chains and cruelly beaten – repeatedly struck by keepers using heavy bullhooks and baseball bats. The ensuing controversy led to their transfer to PAWS in 1995.

Many more elephants found sanctuary at PAWS, each with their own story to tell (far too many to impart in this article!), such as Asian elephant Gypsy who spent nearly 40 years in the circus and African elephant Maggie, who was the only elephant in Alaska – both arrived in 2007. Our first bull elephant, Nicholas (left), also came to PAWS in 2007. PAWS remains the only sanctuary to care for bull elephants.

Advocacy efforts on behalf of elephants run throughout PAWS’ history – and continue today. In 1985 PAWS was the first organization in the country to investigate and obtain undercover video of circus animal abuse. In 1988, Pat Derby served on the Elephant Task Force, a committee formed by a California state senator in response to the horrific beating of African elephant Dunda at the San Diego Wild Animal Park. This resulted in passage of an elephant protection law that prohibited certain abusive practices.

Over the years, PAWS has launched nationwide campaigns aimed at ending the use of elephants in traveling shows and circuses, investigated elephant abuse, and presented testimony at special hearings in Washington, DC. We’ve been fortunate to work alongside longtime friends such as Emmy Award-winning television star Bob Barker and Academy Award-winning actress Kim Basinger.

Above: In 2015, PAWS' President Ed Stewart was a featured speaker at a rally held on the steps of California's State Capitol. Joining PAWS was "CSI" television star Jorja Fox and Gina Kinzley, lead elephant keeper at the Oakland Zoo. The day was all about elephants and two elephant protection bills before the legislature.

Always focused on our aim of ending the abuse of elephants, no matter where they may be confined or made to perform, PAWS set its sights on ending the use of elephant bullhooks. We helped drive the Los Angeles ban on bullhooks, signed into law in 2014, followed by a ban in Oakland, California – the first major U.S. cities to enact restrictions on major circuses. These actions set the stage for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus to end its elephant acts in 2016 and then shut down forever in 2017.

PAWS co-sponsored the successful statewide prohibition on elephant bullhooks in California and teamed up to prohibit bullhooks in Rhode Island. We’ve actively contributed to other groundbreaking legislation, including prohibitions on the use of elephants in circuses in Illinois and New York State, a ban on wild animals in circuses in New York City, and the recent bans on wild animal acts in New Jersey and Hawaii.

With an eye to the future, PAWS has provided expert affidavits for groundbreaking legal cases by the Nonhuman Rights Project that aim for recognition of legal personhood for captive elephants.

PAWS is dedicated to doing everything we can for captive elephants: We provide hope for a better life by providing lifelong care, spacious environments, and a more natural life at our 2,300-acre ARK 2000 sanctuary, opened in 2002. We also hold out hope for a better future by fighting to end elephant abuse, exploitation, breeding, and, ultimately, their captivity. At the same time, we work to impress upon everyone the urgency of protecting elephants and their habitats in Asia and Africa.

Thank you for joining us on this very worthy journey!

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Update on California's

Circus Cruelty Prevention Act

PAWS continues to actively advocate for SB 313, the California bill to end the use of wild or exotic animals in circuses, sponsored by Senator Ben Hueso. As previously reported, the bill passed the California Senate. It is now making its way through the Assembly. It recently passed the Committee on Water, Parks, and Wildlife (9-2 with 2 abstentions), and the Judiciary Committee (9-1, with 2 abstentions). The next stop for the bill is the Appropriations Committee. If passed, it will go to the entire Assembly for a vote.

In circuses, wild animals are forced to perform under threat of painful punishment, confined in cramped cages and crates as they are transported from show to show, and generally deprived of all that is natural to them. It’s time for California to end this abuse!

How Californians can help

Subscribe to our mailing list to receive special alerts with actions you can take to ensure this important bill passes.

Be sure you're following PAWS on Facebook and Twitter, where we'll be providing actions you can take to enture this important bill passes the Assembly and can move on to the Governor's desk to be signed into law.

PAWS is pleased to be supporting this key animal protection bill that would end the abuse and exploitation of wild animals for entertainment.

Don’t live in California? What about passing an ordinance in your city? PAWS can help! Contact

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Big Cat Protection Bill

Introduced in Congress

PAWS is part of a coalition of animal protection groups supporting the Big Cat Public Safety Act, H.R. 1380. Championed by Representatives Michael Quigley of Illinois, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and 144 bipartisan co-sponsors, the bill would keep dangerous big cats like tigers, lions, leopards and cougars out of private hands and prohibit the use of big cat cubs for the public to pet, feed, take photos and play with. Cub petting attractions cause immeasurable suffering and threaten human safety. “Surplus” big cats produced by these operations can fuel the illegal market for animal parts and seriously undermine efforts to conserve these iconic animals. Currently, there is a patchwork of state laws regulating private ownership of big cats – and some states have no laws at all. A federal law is necessary to end the unregulated trade and nationwide abuse of big cats.

Contact your U.S. representative today and ask that s/he support the Big Cat Public Safety Act.

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PAWS' co-founder, the late Pat Derby, and African elephant 71, walking through the hills at ARK 2000. Pat and Ed rescued 71 in 1986; she was PAWS' founding elephant. 71 died in 2008 - read about

her here.

Pat Derby: A Life Dedicated

to Protecting Captive Wildlife

Pat Derby, co-founder of the Performing Animal Welfare Society, was a champion for captive wild and exotic animals, particularly those used in “entertainment.” Working side by side with her partner, current PAWS’ president and co-founder Ed Stewart, they set a new standard of care for captive wildlife, including establishing the first elephant sanctuary in the U.S. Sadly, Pat lost a long battle with cancer and passed away on February 15, 2013. But her spirit continues to live in PAWS’ rescue, sanctuary, and advocacy work.

Pat’s bravery and vision for a better life for captive wildlife helped lay the groundwork for the profound changes we are seeing today, including the public’s increasing rejection of the use of wild animals in entertainment, whether elephants and tigers in circuses or orcas in marine parks, and the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus coming to an end. Her battle against the use of cruel elephhant bullhooks has resulted in statewide bans in California and Rhode Island, with PAWS playing an integral role in their passage.

Pat remains an inspiration to everyone at PAWS and to the greater animal protection community. Her determination and fighting spirit continue to drive PAWS’ efforts to create a more just and humane world for captive wild animals, each and every day.


At PAWS Sanctuaries rescued animals live in peaceful, natural habitats, free from fear, chains, and harsh confinement. They are at complete liberty to act out natural behaviors in the comfort of their individually designed enclosures. PAWS' animals are not bred, traded, sold, rented or forced to perform in any way. PAWS educates the entertainment industry, public officials and the general public in humane care and treatment of captive wildlife.

Through our public awareness campaigns, more and more actively concerned individuals are becoming aware of the problems inherent in the breeding of wildlife in captivity and the use of animals in entertainment. Learn More »





The Importance of Nature at ARK 2000

A recent study in the esteemed scientific journal Nature reports that a two-hour “dose” of nature per week – spending time in natural environments – significantly boosts the likelihood of a person reporting good health or well-being. This includes just sitting quietly and enjoying the peace of nature around you.

Now, imagine you are a captive wild animal who was forcibly estranged from nature. Maybe you or your ancestors were stolen from your homeland. Think of what it would feel like to be denied access to anything natural – grass to walk on, space to roam, the ability to engage in natural activities such as selecting food, socializing with others of your choosing, establishing your own territory, or finding a mate. You have effectively lost your sense of purpose. In every direction you walk, there is an impenetrable barrier. This is what wild animals endure in captivity.

So many of the animals rescued by PAWS have suffered not just alienation from nature but great adversity and horrific abuse.

Ben the bear (above) lived in a decrepit 12x22-foot cage, with only a concrete floor to walk on. There was nothing green. Anywhere. No grass, no logs and fallen leaves to forage in, no trees for shade or climbing. He paced back and forth with little interruption, except for the occasional visitor to the shameful roadside attraction that confined him.

Tiger brothers Bigelow (left), Nimmo and Wilhelm were part of the "Colorado Eight" rescue. These big cats were used to produce more cubs for a now defunct petting zoo that charged the public a fee to take photos with baby tigers who had been ripped away from their mothers. They lived in minimal conditions that were a far cry from the forests these magnificent animals occupy in nature. Several tigers at the facility did not make it out alive.

Of the eight elephants at ARK 2000, five were kidnapped from their families in the wild and sold to circuses, zoos and private owners: Mara, Lulu, Maggie, Toka and Gypsy. Instead of being raised by their tight-knit, protective families, they were thrust into a frightening world that couldn’t be more foreign to them. Our other three elephants — Prince, Nicholas, and Thika — were born in captivity so all they have ever known is confinement.

When PAWS President Ed Stewart and his longtime partner and PAWS co-founder, the late Pat Derby, envisioned ARK 2000 – our 2,300-acre natural habitat sanctuary in California – they instinctively knew that this was the right direction in caring for wild animals already fated to a life in captivity. While we can’t give back what these animals have lost or the wild lives they should have had, we can give them more natural surroundings filled with trees, grass, natural foliage, and the chance to rediscover innate behaviors that are important to them.

Living in a truly natural setting – versus even a “naturalistic” one – provides unique opportunities to engage in more varied activities and for the animals to make their own choices, giving them a small bit of “freedom.” They are also more in tune with nature as the seasons change, bringing different sights, sounds, and smells.

We have no way to know exactly what our animals are thinking, but we can observe their behaviors and try to decipher what they mean. In our estimation, immersing captive wild animals in nature has had a positive effect. The most important markers are those that indicate the animals are feeling relaxed and secure in their environments: a tiger laying on her back in the sun, a bear who doesn’t pace all day long, and an elephant lying down to nap as her companions watch over her.

If a two-hour dose of nature per week can positively affect human well-being, it only stands to reason that providing captive wild animals with spacious, natural environments in which they have more fulfilling choices and some control over their lives must make a huge difference in their quality of life and well-being. PAWS believes this is the very least we can do for the wild animals in our care. We remain dedicated to providing the best care possible for the animals here now and those who arrive in the future.


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The Importance of True Sanctuary

By Catherine Doyle

PAWS Director of Science, Research and Advocacy

I recently heard about a comment made by a zoo employee, who said that PAWS’ ARK 2000 sanctuary is “just a bigger zoo.” My immediate response was: How superficial! That person really doesn’t understand what a sanctuary is all about. Obviously, space is important, especially when you’re caring for the planet’s largest land mammal. Elephants need room to move and stay healthy. But there are many factors that distinguish PAWS from other captive institutions.

Animals come first

We are here to serve the wild animals in our care; their welfare is our primary concern. PAWS holds the highest standards of care for the animals, provided by a dedicated caregiver staff and veterinary team. The animals are cared for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and treated with the respect they deserve.

Different role of confinement

At ARK 2000 we use confinement to protect and better serve the animals, rather than control and display them for human amusement. PAWS openly acknowledges that even the greatly improved conditions we provide are still not enough to meet the needs of wild animals. As PAWS President Ed Stewart has said, "The only “state of the art” place for elephants, bears, big cats and other animals is the wild."

Safe haven for life

A true captive wildlife sanctuary does not breed, buy, trade, sell or otherwise exploit animals. The animals who come to ARK 2000 will remain in our care for the rest of their lives. Important social bonds are respected and will remain undisturbed.

Focus on the individual

Our animals do not perform, and the public is never in direct contact with them – no selfies, feeding, or other so-called “educational” encounters. PAWS' focus is on the individual for the sake of that animal only. They are not ambassadors for their species nor are they on display to send a message. If there is any message, it is that the situations these animals were rescued from, and the abuse and deprivations some of them suffered, should not be allowed to exist.

Dynamic spaces

Larger spaces allow for more environmental complexity and more choice for the animals, whether it is engaging in self-directed activities or choosing to be closer to or farther from companions. At ARK 2000 the animals are immersed in complex natural areas that change with the seasons, effecting different behavioral opportunities and sensory experiences.

Quiet of nature

A large, natural habitat sanctuary offers subtle benefits: the quiet of living in nature, more intrusion-free lives, the relaxation that comes from no longer being exposed to the pressures of close confinement and social stress, privacy, and expanded visual, auditory and olfactory experiences.

Emphasis on rehabilitation

PAWS strives to help elephants be elephants, tigers be tigers, and bears be bears. Natural environments filled with grass, shady trees, bushes and lakes allow the animals to actively engage in instinctive behaviors such as foraging, swimming, exploring, climbing, socializing, or simply napping in the sun. Our patient and caring staff is there to support the animals and enable their remarkable transformation to the vibrant and thriving animals they are today.

View of captivity

PAWS seeks to create a deeper understanding of the problematic nature of captivity for wild animals and works to end the systems of abuse and exploitation that have created the need for sanctuaries to begin with. Captivity is not normal and we should not idealize it, even with the best of conditions. Wild animals belong in the wild, protected and respected.

As you can see, PAWS is much, much more than just a “bigger zoo.” It is a place that offers a new lease on life for the elephants, big cats, bears and other wild animals currently in our care – and those yet to come. It is also a place where each animal is respected as an individual with her or his own inherent value, and whose welfare and needs will always come first.

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Thank you June Amazon

"Wish List" Donors

Darlene Murchison: two bottles of Azodyl, 90#. Ellie Bryant: two gallons of Red Cell. Carole Bognar: one tub of Psyllium. William F. Mentus: one gallon of Red Cell. Anonymous Donors: one gallon of Red Cell; One Otoscope with reusable ear specula set; plug-in rechargeable handle for Otoscope.



View wish list items that are needed, but not included on our Amazon list here.

Performing Animal Welfare Society
PO Box 849, Galt, CA 95632

(209) 745-2606 Office/Sanctuary
(209) 745-1809 fax

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