Correcting Misinformation About PAWS


PAWS is not a zoo, we are a Sanctuary; we provide a dignified peaceful refuge to injured, abused, unwanted and retired animals. Zoos, on the other hand, seek to form collections of healthy, virile specimens to exhibit and breed in displays that are often inadequate. Fortunately, some zoos are changing their ways. 

When it comes to our elephants, our medical issues arrive with the elephants. The same cannot be said for many zoos and circuses which often create foot problems, arthritis and skin diseases in elephants due to lack of space, poor facilities and unnatural substrates. PAWS inherits all of those problems when those animals are retired to PAWS. Virtually every elephant that comes to PAWS has a history of physical and/or psychological illness, often untreatable. We are the last alternative to the painful and lonely death of an animal who may have suffered most of its life.

With the City of Toronto’s decision to donate the Toronto Zoo elephants to PAWS, the question of TB at PAWS has become the focus of certain zoo personnel and other misguided individuals who are opposed to sending the Toronto Zoo elephants to PAWS in the uninformed belief that their presence at PAWS endangers their welfare. 

Most recently, some people who purport to be associated with the Toronto Zoo, as well as a veterinarian, Dr. Rapley, have conducted what can only be described as a “witch hunt” directed at PAWS by their urging the media and local agencies that regulate PAWS, to “investigate” PAWS based upon false and misleading statements. They have conducted a never-ending, misinformed, one-sided Facebook war, pursuing what, in our opinion, is a highly unethical and unprofessional tactic under the guise of “due diligence.”

To eliminate the continued spread of this misinformation, I have summarized below the current status of TB at PAWS:

Every elephant at PAWS has tested consistently negative for trunk wash culture for TB. None have ever culture tested positive.

There are two relatively new blood tests, the STAT/PAK and the MAPIA, which are not approved or used in Canada, but are required by USDA in the United States. They indicate if the elephant has ever been exposed to TB, and, if an elephant is reactive to either test, the USDA recommends more frequent trunk wash testing for that elephant.

Because PAWS accepts elephants, like Nicholas and Gypsy, from facilities known to have active TB, we always quarantine those elephants for at least one year, and trunk wash test several times. Nicholas and Gypsy were kept at PAWS Galt facility, the only elephants on that property, for a year and a half before coming to ARK 2000. Prince is currently in an isolated quarantine area at ARK 2000, and so was Sabu after his arrival.

All of our African elephants, with which the Toronto elephants will be housed,  have been non-reactive to the blood tests, and we always keep separate cleaning equipment, feed buckets and supplies for each elephant barn. The African habitat and barn is completely separate from all other elephants and barns.

Nicholas, who lives in a separate barn and habitat on Bull Mountain is non-reactive to the blood tests. Prince, who is in quarantine in a separate barn and habitat has tested reactive to one of the blood tests. We trunk wash test him frequently and he is consistently negative on trunk wash culture.

Among the Asians, Wanda is non-reactive to the blood tests, but Annie and Gypsy are reactive; all are trunk wash culture negative.

TB is an enigma among elephants, and the professionals continue to gather information. 

St. Louis Zoo has been treating an elephant, Donna, for a year for active TB. They have stated that they have no idea how she became infected. “We assume elephants get TB like any other animal,” said the zoo’s director of animal health, Dr. Randy Junge. “An animal or human who has TB blows it out and another animal can pick it up. It takes prolonged contact. But we have a closed herd with no animals coming or going.”

It was reported that Donna would remain with the zoo’s other elephants who would be tested frequently for TB. Junge said there is no point separating Donna from the herd now. “She’s been with them all along so they’ve all been exposed to what she’s been exposed to,” said Junge. “Because they are social animals, putting her in isolation would be inappropriate. We want her to remain comfortable and for herd life to go on.”

In 2000 another elephant, Carolyn, 32, died at St. Louis Zoo. Cause of death was listed as TB. 

In 2010, the Dickerson Park Zoo in Missouri began treating C.C., the zoo’s eldest elephant, and the fifth oldest elephant living in AZA-accredited zoos. According to news reports, the zoo’s veterinarian, Dr. Erica Wilson stated, “At this time, C.C. shows no symptoms of an active illness, only that at some point in her lifetime she has been exposed to this bacterium.”

Dr. Wilson went on to say, “C.C. and the other elephants are beloved animals for everyone working on the zoo’s staff and throughout the community as a whole. We treat animals for a variety of conditions all the time. And, we go to great lengths to ensure the best quality care for our animals every day.”

San Francisco Zoo received an elephant, Calle, from LA Zoo who trunk washed positive and was treated for the disease. Calle was originally a Have Trunk Will Travel elephant who gave rides to the public for several years before she was traded to LA Zoo.

TB is prevalent in circuses and some zoos. It is treatable and certainly is not the cause of the majority of elephant deaths in captivity. Rather, most elephants in captivity die from foot diseases and/or arthritis.

It is for this reason that Iringa’s foot problem continues to be the major cause of concern, given she is more likely to die from this condition rather than from anything at PAWS.

And, it is for this reason that the furtive attempts of some to hide Iringa’s foot problems, while postulating a theory of her death from TB at PAWS, is a shocking reminder of the lack of ethics which prevails among some. Indeed, the Zoo will not allow our veterinarian to film the treatment of Iringa’s foot, although we will inherit this problem and need to be informed about her ongoing treatment.

I find the highly inaccurate, and easily refuted, information on the ages of elephants who have died at PAWS so outrageous, I will not waste time on responding. Elephant ages and other data is kept in the Asian and African studbooks and is a valuable reference for those who can read. (Click on links, above.)

PAWS has provided this information at the risk of legal action by those who have donated elephants to us under confidentiality agreements. Toronto Zoo is requesting outside experts to evaluate this situation — although everyone who regulates us IS an outside expert. Their reluctance to allow any outside expert to examine Iringa’s foot is, therefore, even more confusing.

Pat Derby, PAWS President

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20 thoughts on “Correcting Misinformation About PAWS

  1. A recent newcomer to all this debate I feel compelled to say that not all zoo’s are such horrible, terrible places to house elephants. Agreed there are many, but there are also some that do have the elephants welfare in mind. A great example of this is the North Carolina Zoo (I am a longtime volunteer there). We have a very large GRASS land exhibit with pools and a new home. We have a working agreement with the North Carolina State University and their large mammal Veterinary school.Recently one of our older males was given cataract surgery to restore his sight. We have never breed here and give them the option of when and if they go out on exhibit.
    I am wondering why PAWS has not looked into Zoo Atlanta’s exhibit. (That I know of). It is one of the smallest and worst exhibits I have ever seen. Is it simply because they are in a warmer region? I have been to Toronto and many other zoo’s but find Zoo Atlanta to be the most offensive. There are a lot of accusations from both sides but I do have to wonder how you “target” some facilities and not others. Being ignorant of the facts involved in the Toronto Zoo situation I have no opinion here so please note I am not taking sides. Just curious as to the policies of PAWS and how they select the animals to be placed inside the sanctuary. Apparently PAWS does excellent work and provides a wonderful place for elephants but to infer zoo’s are a bad place is just unfair.
    Yes theoretically all animals should be in the wild but since humans have no self control that is no longer an option.
    Saying “…valuable reference for those who can read.” is clearly an insult and quite frankly an immature thing to say. I read with interest up to this point and then in my opinion credibility is somewhat lost.

    • Toronto contacted PAWS – PAWS did not ‘target’ our elephants. Elephants do not belong in our climate and our zoo is not even nearly equipped well enough to house them properly. The decision was made that relocating the girls to a sanctuary was in their best interests and PAWS stepped up and agreed to give them a home.

      • The AZA continues to play their political game with elephants’ lives… Supporters of PAWS & TES see through this superficial postering.
        All captive exotics inherently need & deserve the freedom to live as closely to their “wild selves” as possible.

    • Valerie, if you had followed this debacle from the beginning you could probably imagine why Pat Derby would write such words. I think she’s remarkably restrained considering the frustration and abuse she and everyone at PAWS has had to endure as they simply try to provide sanctuary to 3 elephants.

      In May 2011, the City of Toronto, which owns the Toronto Zoo, told the zoo to cut costs. The Zoo management decided to close the elephant exhibit both to save money and primarily because it recognized that Canada’s cold climate and the Zoo’s outdated enclosure were inhumane to the elephants (4 elephants died there in the past 6 years). PAWS kindly stepped forward and offered to take the elephants at no cost to the city.

      However, the Zoo said they’d use “due diligence” to look for a new home for the elephants, but after five months of dilly-dallying, no decision had been made. So, last October, Toronto City Councillor Michelle Berardinetti proposed that the elephants go to PAWS and 31 of 34 city councilors voted for it. The decision was made.

      Then the Toronto Zoo elephant keepers made a big stink that THEY didn’t get to make the decision. (They are all members of the powerful CUPE union and pretty much can’t be fired no matter what.) They then launched a massive smear campaign against PAWS, all last fall, winter and spring, libeling the sanctuary and Ms. Derby all over the internet. They have spread rumors and used fear-mongering to try to derail the elephants’ move to PAWS in favor of the place they now prefer, the unbuilt, unaccredited NEC (National Elephant Center), which is a collaboration of 73 zoos. This animosity on their part is unheard of; their behavior has been both unprofessional and libelous, and they have terribly abused the good people at PAWS in their selfish quest to have “their” elephants sent to another AZA facility (one can only imagine their personal motives for this.)

      All along, PAWS has acted in good faith, providing requested documentation, constructing and shipping crates for each of the elephants, coordinating the transfer, and trying to placate the naysayers who might believe the lies spread against this sanctuary. The transfer has been delayed at least twice now.

      If I were Pat Derby and I’d devoted many years of my life creating a humane, beautiful sanctuary like PAWS, only to be relentlessly attacked by a bunch of arrogant zookeepers, I would have written much harsher words than she did.

    • Hi, Valerie. You haven’t seen the San Antonio Zoo then – 105 degree heat radiates off a wall into a barren small enclosure and the two elephants dislike each other. Then there is St. Louis which has some of the sickest elephants in the US, but keep breeding with EEHV anyway (and TB). I have seen photos of the NC zoo and it at least looks GREEN.(This is where Lucy’s mate was sent, leaving her alone and cold in Edmonton, Canada). But elephants need hundreds of acres to really move to keep their physical and mental health, and they need peace and quiet, not screaming kids 12/7. This is a main reason we advocate for sanctuaries, well run sanctuaries like PAWS.

  2. True “Ele Friends” & PAWS supporters KNOW this is just political posturing. The real travesty is when innocent animals get caught in the middle… PAWS & TES continue to be the Gold Standard of Elephant care in the US; setting an example world wide for all to emulate. The AZA is a bureaucratic mess.

  3. Canadian Unions are nasty – all these folks care for is their jobs and not the health of the elephants. Sorry they are going to lose their jobs but the girls deserve better than living in a frozen, concrete jungle so they can make a buck.

  4. Thank you Paws for setting things straight…..although we all knew the truth anyway. Shame on the Toronto zoo people who are attempting to discredit PAWS. I look forward to seeing the pictures of “our” 3 elephants roaming freely in you California hills! This day cannot come soon enough for all of us here!!

  5. I am so sorry.
    I’m sorry that you have met with the opposition that you have, I’m sorry that you have had to spend so much time defending the sanctuary when I`m sure you have far better things to do, and I’m sorry for the miserable, cry baby, selfish, self centered, money grubbing, Torontonians who still insist on causing trouble for the girls and for PAWS.
    There are many, many of us who are so very thankful that our remaining girls have a chance at living out their lives where they are respected for who they are and not just for how much money they generate. There was simply no other option for them if their best interests were to be taken into account at all.
    I’m sure that I speak for many when I say that they can’t get to PAWS fast enough for our liking.
    Thank you so very much.

  6. Dear Pat,

    Thank you for your cogent, compelling and informative response to the outrageous attacks by people whose agenda does not, apparently, include even a hint of true concern for the well-being of elephants. The ONLY reason I have wanted to know about the medical conditions of the elephants at PAWS is that I care about them, and I care about all of you who courageously contend with the repercussions of the long years they suffered in inadequate conditions. But your letter will help me in my own small efforts at correcting the record.

    As a dear friend of mine once told me: “You are known by your friends, but you are also known by your enemies.” As despicable as the attacks are, these ignoble, pusillanimous attackers are confessing the truth about themselves by every lie they spew about PAWS.

    The very idea that someone who purports to care about Iringa and then refuses your reasonable, indeed responsible, request to video her foot care amounts to little more than a confession of the truth: They care only about themselves.

    You are one amazing woman, Pat! You are a walking, talking role model of courage, kindness and spunk! Thanks for blazing the trail. Thanks to you, Ed, and everyone at PAWS who does not bow down at the altar of empty self-image, greed, and self-absorption.

    Your friend,

    Patricia McEachern

  7. I will continue to picture Toka, Thika & Iringa roaming the soft hills of PAWS – the sleazier and sleazier tactics of the zoo industry disgust me. If the city of Toronto has any demands, it should be for videos of the girls napping and bathing when they’re settled in! I, for one, will not give up on this

  8. As a long-time supporter of both PAWS and TES, I cannot fathom these most recent diatribes against “sanctuaries.” To suggest, as one person did, that euthanasia is preferable to sending the Toronto elephants to PAWS is beyond my comprehension. To call it unprofessional is to be as kind. Unfortunately, there are a great many ignorant people out who, apparently, have time to manufacture stories and twist the facts so that those who may not know as much will be easily fooled. Shame on those individuals.

    I know this must be incredibly trying time, emotionally and financially, but you will succeed. Not everyone is willing to believe the incredibly biased nonsense that some insist upon sharing in public forums.

  9. My apologies! It was Gita who died after suffering for hours at the Los Angeles Zoo with no care or supervision given!

  10. It’s the zookeepers who are sick, not the elephants at ARC! Show me any zoo who takes such good care of the elephants, including 24 hour supervision, who gives them friends and lots of space, who doesn’t exploit them by breeding (for profits) and who would really prefer that they were all in the wild, where they ALL belong! Ruby at the LA Zoo suffered for over 12 hours before she died. Wild animals belong in the wild!

    • Patty the bottomline is this, NO such zoo exists! Sadly elephants do poorly in zoos due to foot problems and arthritis that are a result of concrete and too little space. Too often elephants are either kept alone (leading to depression) and/or overcrowded. Zookeepers know what I say to be absolutely true, but having a job and making money is more important!

  11. I don’t understand why they want to give PAWS such a hard time. There must be a modus operandi behind this on their part… but what can it be?

    • Sandra, I personally believe that the Toronto Zoo elephant keepers were adamant about sending Toka, Thika and Iringa to another zoo because:
      1) They are loyal and beholden to the AZA and CAZA because they work in the zoo industry
      2) They were possibly trying to line up future career opportunities for themselves at other zoo facilities, including the as-yet-unbuilt “National Elephant Center” in Florida, a partnership of 37 zoos
      3) The AZA is a protectionist organization which demands that all member zoos not only pay expensive dues (the Toronto Zoo was paying $8,000/year to belong) but also follows their edicts. The AZA despises PAWS and TES, because these two wonderful sanctuaries make zoos look bad by providing an environment and level of care that NO zoo in North America can compete with. The sanctuaries’ standards are hundreds of times higher than the bare-bones AZA standards for elephant care (available on the AZA’s website). The AZA has been waging war against our wonderful sanctuaries and an example of their ruthlessness is seen in their recent revocation of the Toronto Zoo’s accreditation, because the Toronto City Council had the good sense to donate their 3 elephants to PAWS instead of sending them to another unhealthy zoo.

      • I agree with you, Lori. Basically, it comes down to “follow the money.” What’s new?

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