The Performing Animal Welfare Society


It’s hard to imagine what life for performing elephants must be like out of their natural habitat.
IMG: via Shutterstock

PAWS, or the Performing Animal Welfare Society, is based in California and was started in 1984.  This is not to be confused with the Washington-based PAWS, or the Progressive Animal Welfare Society.

The organization looks out for abused or abandoned animals that had been used in performances of one kind or another.  They could have been in a circus or other show.  They also may have been found via the illegal exotic animal trade. However, PAWS also documents cruelty and assists in investigations and prosecutions by regulatory agencies to alleviate the suffering of captive wildlife.

The sanctuary was started by a former Hollywood animal trainer, Pat Derby and partner Ed Stewart.  The pair help make sure animals are protected by the Endangered Species and the Animal Welfare Acts along with local laws.

The membership list has 30,000 names on it and it is accredited by The Association of Sanctuaries (TAOS).  According to its rules, the sanctuary is not allowed to breed any of the elephants they house.  In 2007 they received a retired circus elephant and in 2000 PAWS became the first sanctuary to house bull elephants.  They now have three.

In fact, PAWS has not one but three wildlife reserves.  One is a 30-acre sanctuary in Galt, California.  Another is a 100-acre Amanda Blake Wildlife Refuge in Herald, California and the third is Ark 2000 which is 2,300 acres in San Andreas, California.  The first to take in elephants was the Galt sanctuary.

The sanctuaries are supported by private and corporate donations.  Recently Bob Barker, the ex-TV host, paid $1 million to transfer to elephants from the Toronto Zoo to the ARK 2000. 

Some of the various animals PAWS now houses are Asian Elephants, African Elephants, bears, lions, tigers, cougars, a black leopard, a serval, a bobcat, one coyote, an emu, a herd of scimitar-horned oryx and many others.  Two famous residents include a couple of bears who were in the movie Legends of the Fall.

It’s nice to know they can live out the remainder of their years in a safe, comfortable place where they no longer need to work.