Veterinary Care for Elephants in a Protected Contact Management System

By Jackie Gai, DVM
Performing Animal Welfare Society Veterinarian
The topic of elephant handling and training has become part of the national dialog on elephant care in light of a wave of legislative action banning the use of the elephant bullhook in progressive cities across the country, and, now, in California with SB 716, the bill that would ban the bullhook statewide.
One of the claims made by proponents of the circus-style training system known as "free contact," which relies on use of the bullhook to control elephants, is that elephants in free contact receive better veterinary care than those in "protected contact" management, which is what we practice at PAWS. Nothing could be farther from the truth. I have worked with elephants in both free and protected contact, and have a broad base of experience in caring for them. So I welcome this opportunity to share with you information about PAWS' comprehensive program of veterinary care for the elephants living at the ARK 2000 sanctuary.
All of the elephants at PAWS are trained and managed in protected contact which uses only positive reinforcement training. The elephant care team and veterinary care staff interact with elephants through a barrier which protects both humans and elephants. The elephants are trained to voluntarily cooperate with us with food treats and words of praise as their reward for moving into and holding a specific body position. Elephants at PAWS are never punished or disciplined for any behavior.
In contrast, free contact describes a management system where human handlers occupy the same space with elephants, using no barriers, and use a bullhook (aka ankus or "guide") on sensitive areas of an elephant's body to cue desired behaviors. This method of training is used in circuses, elephant rides, and in almost every context where you see a trainer physically interacting with an elephant with no protective barrier.
At PAWS, the elephants are asked to touch a specific body part to a "target" - a soft, padded ball on the end of a long stick. Once they move forward to touch

Above: Elephant caregiver
Michelle Harvey holds two
of the "target" poles used
in protected contact
management. The poles
are made of bamboo
with a ball of soft paper
wrapped in masking
tape at the end.
target, they are rewarded with words of praise and often a food treat such as small bits of fruit, vegetables, or other special treats. We might ask them to target their forehead, an ear, or a foot, depending on what part of the body we need to examine. The elephants learn a variety of specific behaviors that are essential for proper care and maintenance of health. Among those are holding still, presenting a foot, opening the mouth, turning around, and allowing any part of the body to be touched or examined.
As part of PAWS' comprehensive preventative medicine program, blood samples are collected at least twice a year from each elephant. Elderly or frail elephants are sampled monthly, or as often as necessary to monitor health status. Elephants stand next to a protective barrier and position their ear in a specially designed opening in the barrier. Elephants have thin skin and many large veins behind their ears - evolutionary adaptations to help them cool off in the heat. Blood samples are easily collected from an ear vein when an elephant is properly trained. The protective wall keeps the staff and veterinarian safe when working close to an elephant. Before a veterinarian can do a blood draw, a trainer must first get the elephant into the proper position by "stationing" the elephant with the soft target while rewarding with food and/or praise. Our elephants are so comfortable with blood collection that we could draw it daily if needed.
Elephants at PAWS are also trained to place any one of their feet through a specially designed opening in the protective barrier and to hold it there to allow close examination of the foot, filing and trimming of toenails, pad and cuticles, and to stand still for X-rays of their toes, wrists, and ankle joints. Arthritis and foot problems are common in captive elephants, the result of a host of conditions only found in captivity such as standing on hard surfaces and restricted movement. Being able to properly care for their feet and detect early signs of arthritis is vitally important.
Even briefly uncomfortable medical procedures such as skin biopsies, lancing of abscesses, intravenous and intramuscular injections, vaccinations, and enemas
can easily be performed in protected contact once an elephant has learned the behavior necessary for that procedure.
We are often asked if it is difficult to re-train an elephant in protected contact, when she or he had been handled in free contact prior to coming to PAWS. This was the story with Asian bull elephant Nicholas who arrived at PAWS in 2007, having been trained since birth in the free contact method of the circus where he once performed. In his previous home, Nicholas was so aggressive and fearful that veterinarians were unable to perform even the most basic testing such as blood collection or trunk washes without strong sedation or general anesthesia. Soon after settling in at PAWS, our staff worked to gain his trust and to assure him that he was safe from reprimand. When he first saw the soft target that we use, he shied away from it as if worried about being hurt by it. Once he realized that we would never physically punish him, and that his cooperation with us meant tasty and wonderful rewards, he quickly adapted to moving toward the soft target. Nicholas' transition from free to protected contact is typical of many other elephants who have come to PAWS, as these highly intelligent and sensitive animals quickly learn there is nothing to fear.
We are also asked if the elephants ever just walk away and refuse to cooperate with us. The fact is, they can because their engagement with us is voluntary. (Elephants can also refuse to cooperate with trainers in free contact, as was seen with Nicholas, though it is usually at a painful cost.) These are very large, strong animals with an abundance of intelligence, individual personalities, and free will. In protected contact elephants have the freedom to choose whether or not to participate, as they are never dominated or coerced in any way. With proper reward-based training, they are usually both willing and eager participants in their own health care. Elephants almost always look forward to interacting with us, and we are usually able to perform the procedure or obtain the desired sample. Even a bull in musth, like Nicholas, looks forward to "working" with us.
In situations where an elephant refuses to cooperate with a trainer or veterinarian, there are other options that may be used depending on how urgent or critical is the need for the procedure. All of the PAWS' elephant barns are equipped with either a restraint chute (a narrow area where an elephant can be confined comfortably) or a hallway where an elephant can be temporarily held while being examined or treated. That said, the restraint chutes are seldom used or necessary. Sedation or anesthesia is a last resort and is usually reserved for surgery or invasive dental work. The vast majority of veterinary procedures go very smoothly with fully cooperative and enthusiastic elephants.

Above: Nicholas swimming in his pond.

Next month, in part two of this report, I will spotlight the dedicated elephant care staff and their important role in ensuring that elephants receive excellent health care at PAWS. 

Assembly Passes SB 716!
California Closes in on Being First State to Ban the Bullhook
We are almost at the finish line! California is on the verge of becoming the first state to ban the cruel bullhook. Earlier today the Assembly passed SB 716 with a vote of 58 to 7. The bill, spearheaded by Senator Ricardo Lara and Assemblymember Rob Bonta, now goes back to the Senate, which must pass the amended version of the bill. Upon passage from that house, the bill will be sent to the Governor for his signature.
PAWS is proud to be a key sponsor of SB 716, together with The Humane Society of the United States and the Oakland Zoo. We also thank Jennifer Fearing for her leadership and direction, as PAWS testified at hearings and walked the halls of the Capitol urging legislators to support this key elephant protection bill.
The bullhook is a weapon resembling a fireplace poker, with a sharpened steel tip and
hook at the end. Handlers forcefully prod, hook and strike elephants on sensitive parts of their bodies to dominate and control them through pain and fear. It is an archaic and inhumane device that has no place in the modern world.
Today, a modern and humane elephant management method known as protected contact allows keepers to provide excellent husbandry care and veterinarians to safely render necessary medical treatment - all without the use of intimidation and painful punishment.

The times are changing, thanks to a dramatic evolution in public opinion on the use and treatment of wild animals in entertainment. Nearly 50 local jurisdictions across the U.S. are regulating the use of performing wild animals, and more are joining those ranks.
PAWS thanks our many celebrity friends who signed on to letters in support of SB 716, and to all the Californians who have taken action by contacting their elected officials. We are close to making history with an unprecedented protection of elephants in California!

PAWS' 2015 "Elephant Grape Stomp:
An Afternoon In TUSKany" - Tickets On Sale
The 11th annual "Elephant Grape Stomp: An Afternoon In TUSKany" will take place on October 17, from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m at ARK 2000 in San Andreas. As PAWS co-founder, the late Pat Derby once explained in her blog, Rumblings From PAWS, the idea for the PAWS "Grape Stomp" originated with the elephants themselves, who have a fondness for "everything grape."
When Pat and Ed were caring for the sickly young elephant, 71, Pat searched for fruits that 71 would eat. She came across an anecdote about a group of elephants in Africa who gorged themselves on a tree filled with overripe, fermented fruit, becoming a "riotous party of drunken elephants." Pat discovered that 71 would occasionally eat small amounts of a variety of fruits, but she devoured none of them as quickly as she did grapes. Soon, local vineyards began to donate their pruned vines to PAWS, which 71 and the other elephants ate like candy. As a celebration of elephants and their beloved grapes, the Grape Stomp fundraiser was created.
The highlight of this yearly event is always the Ms./Mr. TUSKany contest where you get to vote for your favorite elephant, with the winner being "crowned" Ms. or Mr. TUSKany. The "crown" is actually a beautiful edible bouquet made of favorite elephant foods, and first and second runners-up get a tasty bouquet as well. (The other elephants each get a special treat later that day.) The contest is in its seventh year, with Nicholas the big winner last year. Previous winners include Lulu, Maggie and Wanda, with Maggie the toughest contender, winning three times.
Tickets for the Grape Stomp are $100 per person and include Tuscan cuisine (vegetarian and vegan) courtesy of Il Fornaio, wine tasting provided by more than a dozen of the California Gold Country's award-winning wineries, a silent auction to benefit the elephants, and shuttle service around the ARK 2000 sanctuary - allowing you to visit the lions, tigers, bears, leopard, and of course, the elephants. This is an adults-only event. The winner of the 2015 Ms./Mr. TUSKany Contest will be announced at 2 p.m. 
Purchase your tickets today!

Click here to learn more about the Grape Stomp, and to buy your tickets and vote for your favorite elephant(s) online. You may also call our office at (209) 745-2606, M-F, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. PST, to charge tickets and vote. Tickets are $100 each and must be purchased in advance of the event, "votes" are $5 each. Ticket sales and voting end on Thursday, October 15; tickets will not be available for purchase at the door. 
No grapes are actually stomped at the event.

PAWS marched for elephants and rhinos in San Francisco last year, and we'll be marching again this year. We hope you can join us on Saturday, Oct 3. 

Where Will You March for
Elephants and Rhinos This Year?
On October 3 and 4, 2015, the third annual Global March for Elephants and Rhinos will take place in cities around the world to bring attention to the plight of these endangered animals. Elephants are being slaughtered at a rate of nearly 100 per day so their tusks can be turned into trinkets and carvings. A rhino is killed every eight hours for its horn, to be sold as status symbols and unproven "medicines."
PAWS will be participating in two events this year. On Saturday, October 3, we will be marching in San Francisco, as we've done for the past two years. The march begins at 10:30 a.m. at Jefferson Square Park and ends at the UN Plaza. PAWS President Ed Stewart will be a featured speaker at a rally following the march. For more information, visit or click here for the Facebook event page.
On Sunday, October 4, PAWS will be taking part in a new event in Sacramento, Calif., the Sacramento Stampede, celebrating elephants, rhinos and other endangered wildlife. The event begins at 10 a.m. on the north lawn of the State Capitol building and includes music and a flash mob dance session. The march begins at 11 a.m., moving through downtown Sacramento and returning to the Capitol for a rally. Ed Stewart will be a featured speaker and will also participate in a panel discussion. For more information about the event click here, or click here for the Facebook event page.
Please join PAWS at one of these events. If you don't live in the area, be sure to find an event near you and march to bring awareness to the plight of elephants and rhinos. To find a march in your area, click here.

Don't Forget to Comment
on Important U.S. Ivory Rule!
Last month President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) will be proposing a new rule that will virtually ban the sale of ivory across state lines and further restrict commercial exports. This rule will build on restrictions put in place following President Obama's 2013 Executive Order on combating wildlife trafficking. The FWS has published the proposed rules, which are open for public comment until September 28, 2015. To read the proposal click here. Read a Q&A on the proposed changes here.
To comment in support of the proposed rules, visit the Federal eRulemaking Portal at In the search box, enter: FWS-HQ-IA-2013-0091. This is the docket number for the new rule. You may submit a comment by clicking on "Comment Now!" The Service will review and consider all comments received by September 28, 2015, before publishing a final rule.

African Lion Cecil's Killing Impacts the World
PAWS has a special place in our hearts for African lions, having cared for many of these magnificent animals throughout the years. We joined the world in its outrage at the July killing of the charismatic lion Cecil by an American trophy hunter in Zimbabwe. The enormous outcry over Cecil's death awakened the world to the fragility and preciousness of this threatened species, and has led to some important actions to protect lions.

As many as 38 airlines, including Delta, American and United, have banned the shipment of hunting trophies from species such as lions, elephants, leopards, rhinos and Cape buffalo. Lawmakers in New York and New Jersey have authored legislation that would restrict imports into their states, and U.S. Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey has introduced The CECIL Animal Trophies Act to curb trophy hunting of endangered and threatened species.
Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed listing the African lion as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) but has yet to finalize any protections. The situation is dire for African lions, with a plummeting population that currently numbers less than 30,000 in the wild. A listing under the ESA helps protected species by prohibiting certain trade activities, generating conservation benefits, and assisting foreign countries to conserve listed species.
Take Action
1. Please contact your elected officials in Washington, DC, and ask them to urge the FWS to finalize the listing of African lions now. You can locate your senators and representatives here, with phone numbers and links to web forms for on-line messages.

2. Be sure to support any local, state and federal action to curb the trophy hunting of threatened and endangered species.

Victory! Austin, Texas, Bans the Bullhook!
Austin, Texas, has become the latest major U.S. city to ban the bullhook, after the City Council voted 10-1 to prohibit the use of this inhumane device. Councilmember Kathie Tovo sponsored the ordinance. PAWS was pleased to contribute to this important effort, led by Austin for Cruelty Free Entertainment.

Bullhooks are used in the handling of elephants in entertainment, including circuses and rides. Trainers rely on the elephants' fear of the device, which resembles a fireplace poker with a sharpened steel tip and hook at the end, to keep them under strict control. Austin joins other progressive municipalities that have passed bullhook bans, including Los Angeles and Oakland, California; Richmond, Virginia; Fulton County, Georgia; Clatsop County, Oregon; and Margate, Miami Beach and Pompano Beach, Florida.

PAWS congratulates all the committed Austin animal advocates who helped ensure that performing elephants are protected from abuse in their city.

A BIG Thank You!

Pictured right: Seven-year-old Josie Ball, from Santa Clarita, California, holds a copy of the letter she wrote and mailed to PAWS President Ed Stewart, along with a $60 donation for the elephants. Her letter reads: "My name is Jose Ball and I am 7 years old. Elephants are my favorite animal. I sleep with an elephant Lovie, and stuffed elephants. I have elephants all over my dresser. My mom told me that real elephants are not being treated right in circuses and in the wild. I want to help them. So, I just sold my American Girl doll to give you some money to help an elephant who needs it. I hope my money helps. Love, Josie."

Thank you Josie, from everyone at PAWS.
Rumbles and trumpets to you from all of the PAWS elephants - Nicholas, Prince, Toka, Thika, Gypsy, Lulu, Maggie and Mara! 

Apple Harvest Yields Big for PAWS

PAWS is always grateful to California farm and ranch owners who donate delicious and nutritious fruits and vegetables to our animals from their orchards and gardens. In this newsletter we thank long-time PAWS supporter Diane Virdee (pictured above), of Sebastopol, California, and her friends, the Iversen and Torres families, who helped harvest Ms. Virdee's apples this year. This thank you extends to Brian Toohey and and to PAWS' volunteer Jerry Jacobs, for loading and transporting the 500-pound bounty to our ARK 2000 sanctuary.
And speaking of apples, another loyal PAWS supporter, Gay Maetas, who lives in the Central Valley, delivered 300 pounds of her apples to PAWS for the elephants, bears and primates.
And as we all know, an apple a day. . .

If you have produce you would like to donate to PAWS, please call our office at 209-745-2606, between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., M-F, PST. 

Thanks You August Amazon Wish List Donors!
Patricia Connelly: Lincoln Bulldog 5500 Portable Welder; four 30 lb. bags of Blue Buffalo dry dog food; one Husqvarna lawn mower; four bottles 90# Renal Essentials; one case of copy paper; one 15 lb. bag of Natural Balance dry cat food. Cynthia Kendall: one case (30 rolls) of paper towels; one square head shovel; one metal wire rack shelving unit; five containers of Gatorade; one box of #10 window envelopes. Joe Greenhalgh: two 800# bottles of CosequinDS. Suzanne Hall-Whitney: one 5 lb. bag of Missing Link Ultimate Equine Skin & Coat. Alison Harapat: one 40-lb. case of oranges donated in honor of Karin Loucks birthday; 50 lbs. of unpopped popcorn. Carol Wexler: one 5 lb. bag of Missing Link Ultimate Equine Skin & Coat; one 8 lb. tub of Manna Pro Ground Flax Seed; one 10 lb. box of unsalted peanuts. Joseph Hahnz: one 5 lb. tub of Psyllium; one 5 lb. bag of Missing Link Ultimate Skin & Coat; one 8 lb. tub of Manna Pro Ground Flax Seed. Maggie M. Rufo: one container of Gatorade; one box of Nitrile gloves. Sharon K. Niel: one 10 lb. bag of Missing Link Ultimate Equine Skin and Coat; two 5 lb. bags of Missing Link Ultimate Equine skin and coat; one container of Gatorade; one 10 lb. box of unsalted peanuts; one bottle 90# Azodyl. Betty Thomas: one 30 lb. bag of Blue Buffalo dry dog food; one 10 lb. bag of Missing Link;  Equine Skin and Coat; one 8 lb. tub of Manna Pro Ground Flax Seed; one 5 lb. bag of Missing Link Ultimate Skin and Coat; one bottle 132# CosequinDS; one bottle 250# Cosequin DS; one bottle 800# CosequinDS; one bottle 90# Azodyl. Eileen Bosch: one 10 lb. box of unsalted peanuts; one gallon Chlorhexidine solution; one 32 oz. Wheat Germ; one 10 lb. bag of Missing Link Ultimate Equine Skin and Coat; one bottle 90# Azodyl; one bottle 90# Renal Essentials; one 30 lb. bag of Blue Buffalo dry dog food; one 5 lb. bag of Missing Link Ultimate Skin & Coat; one 5 lb. tub of Psyllium; one bottle 132# CosequinDS. Janelle M. Ceped: one 10 lb. box of unsalted peanuts. Cheryl Drayer: one 10 lb. bag of Missing Link Ultimate Equine Skin and Coat; one 5 lb. bag of Missing Link Ultimate Skin and Coat. Elizabeth A. Weaver: one 90# bottle of Renal Essentials; one 10 lb. bag of Missing Link Ultimate Equine Skin and Coat; one 5 lb. bag of Missing Link Ultimate Skin and Coat. Cindy Jarrold: one 30 lb. bag of Blue Buffalo dry dog food. Anita M. Bunter: one bottle of Renal Essentials. Carol Bognar: one bottle of Renal Essentials. Kemper Roach Conwell: one 10 lb. bag of Missing Link Ultimate Equine Skin and Coat. Amaya and JuJu Smith (7 yrs. old): one 40 lb. box of oranges. Karen P. Wayment: one 30 lb. bag of Blue Buffalo dry dog food; one tub of Manna Pro Ground Flax Seed; one bottle 90# Renal Essentials. Scott Gil: one package of Kirkland photo paper. Anonymous Donors: one 5 lb. tub of Buggzo; two cases of bleach; one 5 lb. bag of Missing Link Ultimate Skin and Coat; one 10 lb. bag of Missing Link Ultimate Equine Skin and Coat.
View wish list items that are needed,
but not listed on the Amazon list, here.

There are many ways you can help PAWS animals:
Adopt A PAWS Animal
If you would like to help our animals, one of the best ways is to become an "adoptive parent," or give a PAWS adoption as a gift to an animal lover in your life. PAWS adoptions are symbolic adoptions only. No animal will be sent!
PAWS Amazon Wish List

EBAY Giving Works
List items on EBAY and choose PAWS as your charity. Donate a percentage of each sale to the animals. Visit our EBAY charity listing page here. Start selling!

Corporate Donations
and Matching Fund Programs
Learn more about what is needed.
PAWS Partnerships

Help us change the life of a victim of captivity by becoming a PAWS Partner. PAWS partnerships help support our sanctuary operations and the day-to-day care of the animals.

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Purchase PAWS apparel and merchandise.
Clothing for adults, kids, toddlers and infants, as well as other fun merchandise available from our online gift shop. New elephant note cards just added!

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