February 12, 2015
For Immediate Release



Kim Gardner

PAWS Director of Programs & Media



Wanda in the Asian habitat at PAWS' ARK 2000 sanctuary



Performing Animal Welfare Society

Announces Death of Asian Elephant Wanda


San Andreas, Calif. (February 12, 2015) - The Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) today announced the death of much-loved Asian elephant Wanda at the ARK 2000 captive wildlife sanctuary in San Andreas, California. She was humanely euthanized on Wednesday evening, following a long history of arthritis and foot disease, the leading reasons for euthanizing elephants in captivity. At age 57, she was among the oldest Asian elephants in North America.


"Every elephant at PAWS is special, but Wanda stood out for her adventurous spirit. She will be very much missed," said PAWS president Ed Stewart. "I'm proud we were able to give her a more natural and enriched life at the PAWS sanctuary for nearly 10 years."


Wanda was born in the wild in Asia around 1958, and captured at a young age to be put on display in the United States. During her lifetime, she was moved from one location to another at least seven times, including to Disneyland (according to the Asian Elephant North American Regional Studbook), a circus, zoos in Texas, and then the Detroit Zoo in Michigan.


The Detroit Zoo, which is recognized as a leader in animal welfare as well as providing sanctuary for animals in need of rescue, brought about the two greatest changes in Wanda's life. Until her transfer to Detroit, keepers trained her with the bullhook - a menacing weapon resembling a fireplace poker that is used to control elephants through fear and pain - and kept her on chains. The zoo instead utilized a more progressive and humane management system based on positive reinforcement training that greatly improved Wanda's quality of life and freed her from chains and bullhooks.


In 2004 the Detroit Zoo decided to end its elephant program for the good of the elephants, after determining it could not provide the conditions necessary to meet their needs, such as a warmer climate and far more space. The zoo opted to relocate Wanda and fellow Asian elephant Winky to PAWS' ARK 2000 sanctuary in April 2005. (Winky passed away in 2008.)


"Everyone at PAWS felt a special obligation to the people of Detroit who loved Wanda so much," stated Stewart. "We provided her with a life that was closer to what nature intended for elephants, which was the Detroit Zoo's goal in sending Wanda to PAWS. We did our very best for Wanda every minute of every day she was at the sanctuary. She was very special to us too."


Upon arriving at ARK 2000, Wanda wasted no time in getting to know her new elephant companions and joyfully exploring her new home that was unlike any captive facility she had ever experienced before. At PAWS she loved to forage for natural vegetation in the sanctuary's sprawling habitat, nap in soft grass on the hillside or under a tree, and take therapeutic swims in the lake. The moderate California climate allowed her to enjoy these activities year-round.


After another Asian elephant, Gypsy, later arrived at the sanctuary, it was discovered that the two had been in a circus together more than 20 years earlier. The elephants instantly remembered one another and could always be found close together. Even in death their friendship endured. After Wanda passed away, Gypsy approached her friend and stayed at her side for a period of time, gently touching her body and "speaking" to her in soft rumbles, before slowly walking away.


Throughout the years, PAWS developed a close personal relationship with the Detroit Zoo staff. Executive Director and CEO Ron Kagan, keepers, curators and veterinarians regularly visited Wanda, with whom they had a deep, loving bond. PAWS staff often sent photos to Detroit of Wanda roaming the habitat, playing in the lake, or simply soaking up the sun.


Stewart concluded: "I want to thank the animal care staff from the Detroit Zoo and past and present staff of PAWS for changing Wanda's life so dramatically and giving her the opportunity to just be an elephant again."


As is customary for all elephants that pass away at PAWS, a necropsy is being performed on Wanda's remains by pathologists from U.C. Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital and tissue samples sent to a laboratory.


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Founded in 1984, the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) operates three sanctuaries in Northern California that are home to a large variety of species including Asian and African elephants, African lions, tigers, and other exotic animals rescued or retired from circuses, zoos and the exotic pet trade.


PAWS is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. It is accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, is rated a four-star charity by Charity Navigator, and has received an "A" rating from CharityWatch.