Changing Planet

No Ethical Way to Keep Elephants in Captivity

After reading the April 23, 2013, NewsWatch online post, “Captive Elephant Management: Interview with Knoxville Zoo’s Curator of Elephants,” by guest blogger Jordan Carlton Schaul, I felt compelled to respond. I am the president, and co-founder, of the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). Founded in 1984, PAWS operates three sanctuaries in Northern California for captive wildlife. These sanctuaries are currently home to more than 100 rescued and retired animals, including 8 elephants and 32 tigers, as well as lions, bears, primates and other species.

I have more than 32 years of experience caring for elephants, both Asian and African, including raising calves and managing dangerous bull elephants. My partner, and PAWS’ co-founder, Pat Derby, had more than 38 years of experience working with elephants. Pat passed away in February of this year after a long battle with cancer.

The reason the management of elephants in captivity is coming under such scrutiny, is not, as the author states, because zoos and sanctuaries offer different environments for elephants, but because zoos and sanctuaries have different philosophies about captivity itself. We have learned so much about the complex physical, social and psychological needs of these animals, not necessarily from zoos, but from bona fide researchers in the field. You need look no farther than National Geographic’s own articles and films documenting elephants’ large, extended families, intricate web of social relationships, and wide-ranging movement in vast home ranges, to see that life in captivity cannot satisfy their most basic needs.

“The inadequacies for elephants in captivity will always be a source of disease and suffering for elephants.”

Concern over the welfare of elephants in captive facilities should never be casually dismissed. The inadequacies for elephants in captivity will always be a source of disease and suffering for elephants. Cramped enclosures and hard surfaces cause a variety of problems, including deadly foot disease and arthritis, infertility, obesity, and abnormal repetitive behaviors such as swaying and head bobbing. Captivity can create stress and often-dangerous situations for elephants who have no choice but to co-exist with other elephants who may or may not be compatible. This has resulted in injuries and even deaths of captive elephants throughout the world.

Some Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) zoos have recognized the need for change and have expanded their exhibits to accommodate larger social groups and to give the elephants more room to move — actions that contradict statements long made by zoo apologists that space is not an important issue for elephants.

Protected Contact

More progressive zoos in this country have also changed their management practices, moving from circus style “free contact” to the more humane “protected contact” system. Protected contact uses only positive reinforcement training and a protective barrier between keeper and elephant. It encourages more natural behaviors because the elephants are no longer under the threat of physical punishment that is the hallmark of free contact management.

The author is misinformed when he states: “…whether an organization permits free or protected contact training of elephants, operant conditioning through positive reinforcement can still serve as the basis for behavioral training.” This is absolutely false. The basis of free contact management involves the use of a bullhook, or ankus — negative reinforcement no matter how you look at it.

The bullhook/ankus is a steel rod resembling a sharpened fireplace poker. It is used to prod, hook and strike elephants to achieve a desired behavior. The bullhook is used to dominate and control elephants through fear of pain, and has no place in any zoo.

More than half of AZA zoos have rejected the bullhook and free contact management. Even more are transitioning to protected contact since the AZA established an occupational safety policy that, as of September 2014, will prohibit keepers from sharing the same physical space with elephants.

“Since 1990, 31 keepers have been injured or killed by elephants, all of them in zoos using free contact.”

The author failed to share with his readers that an elephant managed in free contact killed a keeper at the Knoxville Zoo in 2010. Jim Naelitz, the subject of the interview, is the curator of elephants at this facility. This makes Mr. Naelitz’s statement that working with elephants is not a dangerous profession even more astounding. Since 1990, 31 keepers have been injured or killed by elephants, all of them in zoos using free contact.

The elephant involved in the incident at the Knoxville Zoo had previously exhibited aggression toward keepers, yet, according to the Tennessee Occupational Health and Safety Administration (TOSHA), the zoo failed to take preventive action. TOSHA fined the zoo more than $8,000 in the keeper’s death.

Since this terrible tragedy, the Knoxville Zoo has changed to a protected contact management system for all of their elephants. So it is confounding to me that the photo accompanying the article shows Mr. Naelitz seated next to, and in direct contact with, an elephant at the zoo.

Mr. Naelitz’s praise for circuses and entertainment companies like Have Trunk Will Travel — caught on video striking elephants with bullhooks and using an electric shock device to train them to perform circus tricks — is something that should shock and offend all zoo supporters. The notion that elephants, or any other wild animals in circuses, are “ambassadors for their species” is an old argument used to rationalize the idea of keeping animals in captivity. It is perplexing that any AZA-accredited zoo would support the use of elephants in circuses, when the evidence of their suffering is well documented.

“Wild animals belong in the wild.”

PAWS agrees with the author’s statement that neither zoos nor sanctuaries are the perfect environment for any wild animal. PAWS believes that wild animals belong in the wild.


Photo by Lisa Jeffries, PAWS
Mara and Maggie, African elephants in the dry season in the PAWS ARK 2000 sanctuary in California. Photo by Lisa Jeffries, PAWS.


PAWS ARK 2000, a 2,300-acre sanctuary in San Andreas, California, is currently home to 3 African and 5 Asian elephants, 26 tigers, 6 bears and 5 lions. Photograph by Lisa Jeffries, PAWS.


At PAWS, we provide elephants with large, natural habitat environments that better meet elephants’ physical, social and psychological needs. We never use dominance training or bullhooks to manipulate elephants; we are a protected contact facility. There presently exists no state-of-the-art keeping of elephants in captivity, and because no captive elephant offspring has ever been reintroduced to the wild, and there is no plan to do so, we do not think it is ethical to breed elephants.

As long as there are elephants in captivity, we are obligated to provide the best possible conditions for them. This includes an end to the archaic use of inhumane bullhooks and free contact management, no more elephants in circuses and other types of “entertainment,” and greater progress toward providing elephants with captive facilities that far better meet their needs.

Ed Stewart is president of the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), which he and partner Pat Derby co-founded in 1984. PAWS operates three sanctuaries in Northern California that are home to more than 100 rescued and retired animals, including 8 elephants, 32 tigers, lions, bears, primates and other species. Ed managed the development and design of the 2,300-acre ARK 2000, the country’s largest wildlife sanctuary. He has more than 32 years of experience caring for elephants, both Asian and African. Ed, Pat Derby and PAWS have been featured in numerous national media stories promoting PAWS’ campaigns to protect captive wildlife.
  • Mike Carpenter

    Well said! I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and working with Ed; animals have no truer friend and protector. Everyone working with animals could learn from his integrity, knowledge, and compassion. Bravo!

  • Linda Goodwin

    It is alarming to read in the blog piece by Jordan Schaul that the Knoxville Zoo’s Curator of Elephants believes that space is not an issue for elephants! Thank you, Mr. Stewart for this well-written response.

  • Alyne Fortgang

    Science, compassion and common sense tells us that elephants can’t thrive in a zoo environment. The ethical decision would be to phase elephants out of small urban zoos in cold climates.

  • Lois Johannes

    When I was being trained on working with elephants, the first thing I learned about my “bull hook” was how to use it to protect myself.
    Which merely meant to turn it sideways so as not to get smashed into a wall. My hook is about 24″ long with a dull point. An elephant has two tusks, both with dull points and about an 8 foot trunk (with which it can flip a car over). Most trainers are between 100 to 200lbs an elephant is about 6000lbs, now do you really think I would want to get into a fight with said elephant? Any elephant could easily take that hook away from you if they wanted to. The hook when used correctly is just a tool to tell the elephant to turn, stop or lift a foot. I’m not saying there aren’t any bad trainers out there, but then there is good and bad in everything!
    The truly sad thing that these sanctuaries don’t seem to understand is there is no safe “wild” left. Elephants are being poached at an alarming rate. They don’t want elephants bred in captivity. They must not really care about the elephants if they are ready for them to become extinct.
    They seem to be on the same page as PeTA – their belief that all animals would be “better off dead” than risk suffering at the hands of humans.

  • Michael Sultana

    PAWS and the Elephant Sanctuary have raised the bar on life for captive elephants. Jordan Schaul, along with Jim Naelitz are CLUELESS!!!

  • Lee Holen

    Thank you Ed for responding to the zoo apologist. As it snows here in Anchorage on May 4, I am forever grateful that Maggie is at PAWS because it is so obvious that elephants do not belong in small zoos, in cold climates, or alone.

  • Paul O’Sullivan

    This is a shameful propaganda piece generated to fund raise. How do I know this? Personal attacks on Jim Naelitz is the first step in propaganda to discredit the author rather than debate the issue. For this reason alone, I wouldn’t give this “sanctuary” a dime – totally unethical response to a thoughtful and highly credible editorial by an industry expert. And for the record – wild elephants kill people, too. As do dogs, buffalo and hippos. Duh.

  • Elizabeth Dietz

    Breed for captivity? Elephants have to be protected in the wild now! We all have to say no to ivory, speak up when we can. PAWS is a beautiful,l loving, caring Sanctuary that takes in these captive elephants (all animals) that cannot go back in the wild. I thank them and support them. Ed Stewart, thank you for this…and bless Pat Derby.

  • Sheila

    I can’t believe how ignorant some people can be. Elephants were not put on this earth to entertain us. Using the excuse of “the bullhooks are to protect the trainers” does not make the use of the bullhook any less abhorrent. Yes, poachers kill elephants and many other animals. Again, where does the use of bullhooks on elephants come into play in that scenario? Poachers or not, elephants should not be kept hostage in small enclosures, forced to perform tricks that are not natural to them. I don’t agree with keeping elephants in zoos but since zoos are expanding their enclosures and allowing them the company of their own kind, it is getting a little bit better for some of them. There’s no reason to use a bullhook for protection if protected contact management is used. I will not go to a circus that uses elephants or any other animals to entertain and many others are following that route. More and more people are becoming aware of the abuse that is carried out on circus animals and i hope that soon enough, those continuing that practice will either go out of business or be shut down.

  • Marcia

    Personal attacks on Jim Naelitz? Really? Stephanie James is dead because of a failure of this zoo to implement protected contact. A quote from The Zoo Executive Director, Jim Vlna ” Immediately following the incident, we elected to begin managing our elephants in protected contact, which is also an option approved by the AZA.’ Not that AZA has any regulatory authority when it comes to work place safety, the zoo made a conscious decision to do that which was not safe and as indicated in the photo (unless it is over 3 years old), continues to so. His actions just made that directors statement a blatant lie. The truth is not a personal attack. It is what it is. He dishonors this woman’s death in words and actions, when it should mean something. Because of her death, other elephant keepers will live. A zoo fact is that they cannot breed enough elephants in captivity to maintain their own populations. Extinction in zoos is eminent without the continued exploitation of loopholes in the endangered species act. A bullhook does NOT protect the user. That is false security. Google Don RedFox. If an elephant gets fed up, it will kill you and if it is unsuccessful, severely injure you. Protected contact is the best way to stay alive.

  • Donna

    I am so proud to be a volunteer at ARK 2000
    I hope that we will all take a moment to realize every being matters. If we breathe, we feel! Sometimes we forget that the smallest or the largest creatures on earth have a heart that beats just your ours.

  • Shirley

    It is too bad that animal extremist do not look past their own agenda for the better good of the Asian and African species. While PAWS talks the talk they do not walk the walk. They acquire these animals as money making tools and then diminish the conservation work that groups like Have Trunk Will Travel and the International Elephant Foundation do by spouting nonsense. They should be ashamed of their selves. The past of the PAWS founders is jaded. Now they just USE their animals in a different way to make the same money .

  • Mike Carpenter

    Shirley you are so misinformed. Thanks for the laugh though! Ringling holds the record for fines in violation of the Animal Welfare Ace… Have Hook Will Travel has been caught abusing their elephants so many times it’s not even a surprise anymore… they both are the epitome of animal abusers. That’s fact. PAWS is a nonprofit… the circus and HTWT are for profit. The end.

  • Penelope Wells

    At the end of the winter in 2007, 25 year-old Maggie, the lone African elephant at the Alaska Zoo, was in dire straits having twice collapsed in her concrete cell. There was no emergency equipment to haul her massive bulk to her feet to avoid suffocation and death. The local fire department was called into save the day.

    Prior to that fateful day, a local group, Friends of Maggie, had campaigned for five years to persuade the Alaska Zoo to move Maggie to a facility where she could enjoy the company of other female elephants, roam in open spaces in an appropriate climate.

    As it turned out, PAWS, among three other recommended facilities, was the best option for Maggie and as momentum grew, the Alaska Zoo Board finally agreed. So together with the Anchorage community, the media, and citizens both in the Lower 48 and around the world-just about everyone-was rooting for Maggie to make the big move.

    Thanks to PAWS’ and especially Pat Derby and Ed Stewart, with their exceptional knowledge and expertise in relocating elephants and their phenomenal success in socializing new arrivals into their resident ‘herds;’ the generous financial commitment of Bob Barker to help pay for Maggie’s moving expenses and support her in perpetuity, Maggie’s moving plans were being finalized. There were many challenges to overcome, including the fact that Maggie’s crate would not fit into any commercial aircraft to transport from Anchorage to California. With much behind-the-scenes activity and up-the-chain decision-makers, it was agreed that the USAF would fly Maggie, as part of a military exercise, from Elmendorf AFB to Travis AFB, the nearest airport to PAWS, outside Sacramento. Needless to say, Maggie was making headlines around the world.

    The rest is history! Post script. As all the many thousands of hearts that Maggie touched can attest, after a fairly rapid recovery time, she wasted no time bonding with the four other African female elephants and has since November 2007, browsed contentedly on the gentle slopes in rain showers and sunshine … under the superb care and attention of the PAWS staff, and has never looked back. That has been the best gift any of us could have hoped for.

    Penelope Wells, Founder, Friends of Maggie.

  • Stephanie Taylor

    Shirley, you stated, “While PAWS talks the talk they do not walk the walk”
    You are completely misinformed. I have known Ed Stewart for 33 years and can personally vouch for his character and for the fact that PAWS does walk the walk. They rescue animals that no one else wants…usually from horrendous conditions. They transport, feed, provide medical care, room to move about, natural conditions and loving care for the rest of that animal’s life and they do it on donations from the public alone. Unlike Have Trunk Will Travel, they do NOT make money off the backs of their animals by dragging them all over the country in cramped cages nor do they breed or train the animals. Ed Stewart and PAWS are NOT extremists.

  • Shirley

    Mike, sorry to say but you have fallen for all of the extremist propaganda. Whether you are for profit or nonprofit the plain truth is the extremist are using these animals to line their own pockets. They give almost no money to actually help animals. They spread their negativity to pull at heart string to get a buck. Unfortunately you are one of the gullible ones. It is too bad you do not wake up before it is too late. As far as Ringling goes the violations that you speak of are meaningless. And remember when you watch a video they are manufactured. Music and words are added to convey a feeling and the gullible ones go along without thinking or using their own common sense. They let other people do the thinking for them.

  • Evee Gallagher

    Zoos aren’t perfect, and neither is PAWS. But we need to stop bitching at each other to have a serious conversation about elephants in zoos. The author does make concessions for some AZA zoos “doing it right” so to speak. They give the elephants more space, they use protected contact. It is possible for elephants to have a great life in a zoo, as long as the zoo is constantly evaluating their program and putting the needs of the elephants before the needs of the public, and is willing to invest the money. It’s true that any zoo that cannot or will not do this should not have elephants, but that doesn’t mean that zoo automatically equals bad. Wild animals do belong in the wild, but the wild is dangerous and disappearing. We cannot just stop the discussion at “elephants belong in the wild” unless we are willing to see them go extinct. When people say that “elephants are ambassadors for their species” what they really mean is “seeing an elephant up close gets people to give a shit about them”. We live in such a culture that almost everything we see virtual. Watching a nature documentary is not the same as standing in front of an elephant and seeing it tower above you, or watching a training session and seeing just how damn smart these animals are. When done correctly, this encounter forges a connection that seeing an animal on TV just cannot do. And that connection opens up pocketbooks. That connection starts fundraisers and evokes passions. The zoo industry has to constantly balance the guest experience and the elephant experience, but it’s doing a disservice to the discussion to leave the importance of that guest experience out of the equation completely. Is a circus performance forging that connection and respect of elephants? Probably not. Can demonstrations, shows, and training sessions at a zoo do that? Yes, they can, depending on the message. The people who speak up so eloquently for PAWS always start with the phrase “I’ve been there” “I’ve seen how great the elephants are cared for”. THEY CARE BECAUSE THEY’VE EXPERIENCED IT IN REAL LIFE! We can’t stop talking about that when we have this debate.

  • Tory Braden

    Thank God Nat Geo editors woke up and printed reality after that shameful piece condoning zoos and all the ills for elephants that go with them. As far as “Shirley” and any other zoo-agenda promoters, name calling seems to be all that is paltry in their arsenal, i.e. “extremists,” – it certainly isn’t common sense, let alone scientific facts such as what have been cited here by Mr. Stewart.

  • Karen Bonadio

    I sat in a Los Angeles courtroom last year witnessing the trial against the Los Angeles Zoo for taxpayer waste, a result of too many elephants dying at the L.A. Zoo. Attorney David Casselman for the Plaintiff revealed the poor living conditions and lack of space the elephants were forced to exist in, and the shocking lack of elephant knowledge of the zoo’s elephant handlers. If I hadn’t been in the courtroom, I don’t know if I would have believed the admission by the zoo’s own resident veterinarian, nor the zoo’s “animal shrink,” who both seem to believe that L.A. Zoo bull elephant Billy who “rocks, sways, bobs his head for most of the day, to be indicative of his anticipation of being fed, like a dog who wags his tail.” World renowned elephant scientists and researchers Dr. Joyce Poole, Dr. Keith Lindsay, and Cynthia Moss have all concluded that these conditions Billy and other elephants in captivity exhibit are a direct cause of severe confinement in small spaces, lack of social interaction with other elephants, and training methods used which include bullhooks, electric prods, and the use of ropes and chains to “break elephants.”

    I have seen the “before and after” transformations of elephants from captivity to a more free ranging and social lifestyle which sanctuaries like PAWS can provide to captive elephants. Ruby the ex-L.A. Zoo elephant is one example. She was living alone in a confined exhibit not even on “display” for the zoo’s visitors. After L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa and high level zoo staff agreed to send her to PAWS sanctuary for her well-being, she not only benefitted at her new digs at the PAWS 2300 acre sanctuary, Ruby flourished! In fact, Dr. Joyce Poole studied Ruby and her interactions with the other elephants at PAWS, and concluded she saw for the first time in captive elephants, “elephant interaction only observed in the wild.” The environment of PAWS, the open space, the conditions of allowing the elephants to make their own decisions on how they spend their days, brought out true elephant behavior. I have been to PAWS sanctuary and to Kenya, and I can attest also to the natural behavior I have witnessed in the wild and seeing this same interaction between the elephants at PAWS sanctuary. At sanctuaries like PAWS, captive elephants are provideded with what they need: space, a more natural environment to roam and browse, social interactions with other elephants which provides for their psychological needs to exist in family-like herds. Removing the stress, trauma, and fear these magnificent animals have been existing in across America and around the world in zoos and the circus can be implemented. Protected Contact, space, social interaction and the end of forced behavior is what will provide captive elephants to live more content and healthy lives.

  • claire voutsinas

    why should bull hooks even be debated,these animals should be free.
    Yes compassion, and common sense , tells us so.
    Sancturies are the next best option,where surely bull hooks are not used.

  • Ellespot

    Not all elephant hooks are used in an abusive manner. Again people are relying on about 5 pieces of video evidence rehashed over the course of about ten years and all of it from the circus industry. There is only one major incident in the USA of a zoo using an elephant hook to treat an animal abusively. To assume anyone using an elephant will abuse an animal with it is to assume that anyone using a dog leash will abuse the dog, or anyone using a bridle on a horse will abuse the horse. A tool is only as abusive as the person who wields it and to assume all zookeepers are in their jobs solely for the purpose of abusing an animal is ludicrous. Elephant hooks in a zoo in addition to positive reinforcement provide training which offers vets and keepers to do valuable medical check ups and implement exercise programs to keeps animals healthy. It’s other purpose is simple, yes if you are working closely with an animal that weighs in the tons it is important to have a tool which can be used to aid in your safety. There was a keeper killed at Tennessee Sanctuary, if she had an elephant hook maybe she would have been able to provide herself an opportunity for safety. Another keeper in Australia was accidentally crushed by an elephant just last year. If she had an elephant hook perhaps she could have done something to stop the animal from sitting on her. It is not simply a tool designed to beat an animal. Activists focus on the tip of the hook assuming it is to draw blood, to be abusive. No mention of how the hooked end in fact fits perfectly over an elephants ear to aid in directional commands, and yes this can be done humanely. All of these blanket generalizations which with bias support animal liberation causes are extremist in nature.
    Animals should be free? This is by far the most ludicrous statement of all. Of course this is a lovely sentiment, but the wild for elephants currently is a slaughterhouse. Loss of habitats, poaching and human elephant conflict top the list. With only 450 elephants in captivity in North America, just a little over 1% of the elephants which were slaughtered in the wild in the last 18 months perhaps people need to rethink these DIsneyesque kinds of statements. My love for elephants and my current commitment to helping wild elephants and the survival of their species is rooted in personal experiences at zoos. Zoos worldwide contribute to many in field conservation programs as well as numerous valuable studies in both captive AND wild elephant health care, diseases, communication and social studies. The list goes on and on if you have the courage enough to challenge your ideologies and learn about it. It is time sanctuaries break free of their ties with extremist animal rights groups and begin to develop more moderate relationships with zoos, to work together cooperatively. Until then all this protesting and propaganda does nothing more than line the coffers of organizations whose ultimate goals have nothing to do with animal welfare in zoos. It is about having the money to power litigation and lobbying to influence government policies, to end the farming of any animal for human consumption or any use of animals for humans and to end all use of animals in the medical industry, including the development of treatments and cures for disease. They also want to eradicate pet ownership, the use of guide dogs or dogs for the blind, hearing impaired and autistic. When yo side with these activists you choose an extremist position, be prepared to own up to that allegiance.

  • Lori Marino

    Thank you for this cogent response to the pro-zoo piece. I see that a number of commentors are under the impression that the “ambassador of a species” concept serves to promote caring about that animal. I’ve done research on this claim and published on it. The bottom line is this – there is absolutely no evidence that seeing an animal in a zoo on display leads to more positive attitudes towards that animal. The evidence is just not there and the “ambassador” idea, which Ed Stewart also discusses, is an old public relations ploy on the part of zoos and marine theme parks to justify their confinement of other animals for commercial purposes. Let me repeat – there are no data to support the “ambassador” concept – no data for education, no data for attitude change, and no data for better conservation. Thank you.

  • Phyllis Elliott

    Thank you for publishing the letter from Ed Stewart. I have learned a great deal about elephants while participating in campaigns to free Ruby, then Maggie, then the Toronto elephants — far more than any child will ever learn from seeing a miserable animal confined in a small, sterile exhibit, and, apparently, far more than zoo personnel who regard them as inventory to be bred, “managed,” chained, and beaten.

    It’s time to end abusive handling of wild animals and, instead, teach awareness, respect and compassion. Imagine what impact that could have on our relations with each other….

  • Elizabeth S Shulman, Ph.D.

    Thank you, Ed, for your factual statement which challenges misrepresentation in a respectful but direct way. As a psychologist for many years, I have devoted my life to helping people heal from insensitivity and aggression inflicted on them often when they were quite vulnerable. Surely, we can all share a more compassionate world by acknowledging and repairing our practices which cause suffering to any creature, but particularly those entrusted to us for their care and well-being. With applause and sincere thanks.

  • lhall

    I’ve worked for a circus(Circus Vargas), seen many zoos with elephants placed in small spaces and visited PAWS many, many times. ABSOLUTELY NO CONTEST. PAWS offers so much more than the other two put together. People, if you havent’ been to PAWS and seen what the do for these animals, then don’t comment.

  • James Ehrlich

    As an award winning PBS television producer and documentarian, I spent several years filming the tireless work of PAWS, Ark 2000 and interviewing both Pat Derby (may she rest in peace) and Ed Stewart.

    I can personally attest to not only the non-profit walk that PAWS talks, but also convey that I have never in my life seen a group of people more dedicated to the truest spirit of wild animal rescue, sharing their deepest compassion to treating each creature as a sentient soul deserving of love and attention.

    It made me laugh out loud at these commenters who suggest that PAWS are in it for the money! I saw first hand (and filmed) how Pat and Ed sacrificed everything to put these beautiful creatures before their own self interests, working around the clock to do everything they could to make Ark 2000 a reality.

    If you want to know how humans ought to interact and treat wildlife, there’s no other person I would turn to than Ed Stewart and the folks at PAWS.

  • JimEckford

    If you ever have the importunity to visit PAWS and meet Ed Stewart (and crew) you will realize, as I have, that elephants
    can have no better human friends. They work tirelessly for the recovery and comfort of retired animals that have lead awful previous lives. Anyone that would think to say that they are making money at this is greatly uninformed.

  • carol broll

    Thank god for people like you. Your article is impressive and informative. I am an anti-speciesist and feel that no species should keep another in captivity for their own gain. I am grateful for everything you and your organization have done.

  • Lisa LeBlanc

    I object to some of the comments here that intimate PAWS and it’s founders are either creators or sellers of the proverbial animal extremist Kool Aid: PAWS has not only provided sanctuary for the unwanted and abused, but routinely participate in drafting legislation to make those who chose to keep wild animals in captivity for entertainment responsible for the level of humane care those animals receive. The PAWS facilities are run with the welfare of the occupants front and center; human observers are nice but not necessary. With more than 6 decades of combined experience, who better to know and understand the needs of these animals than Mr. Stewart and the late Ms. Derby? Not every charitable endeavor is undertaken simply to pad the pocketbook; some folks actually do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do.

  • Rudy

    I vote that all the people here defending holding captive animals in zoos be locked up in prison as “ambassadors” for the human race.

  • Mir

    Bravo PAWS.
    Sad to see the Toronto elephants still here – having suffered through another winter.

  • Creed

    Shirley, You can bury your head in the sand and choose to deny or turn a blind eye to the abuse of elephants or animals in captivity but that still doesn’t change the truth. Whether you like it or not. Did you even seen the videos, not just one but dozens showing the abuse of Elephants. From young calf’s to adults, being chained and beaten. A video filmed inside the Ringling training facilities is just one, filmed by one of the trainers, no music to add drama, just the blaring rock music trying to drown out the screams of the calf. Yes a young calf in training, screaming in pain and loss for its mother as all four legs are tied and each wrenched in opposite directions, forcing it to the ground. Beaten into submission. You have completely lost your ability to feel compassion for Mothers Earths creatures and I can only surmise that you either work for a circus or a zoo or just don’t care?

    Animals do not belong in captivity. I would ask, would you allow any human to collared and shackled in a room no larger than 8*10 some 20 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Removed from their family and tribe. Be forced to stand on your head, to do tricks when demanded for the entertainment of others. I would not even wish that on any animal or human. How about you Shirley? In any court in the nation, with any jury, that would be considered torture and the abuser condemned and thrown in jail for life. It is obvious, it is cruel and unusual punishment for any creature.

    A very wise, compassionate and caring man once wrote

    “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way in which its animals are treated.

    I hold that the more helpless a creature, the more entitled it is to protection by man from the cruelty of man.

    Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

    I hope and pray for you and a return to compassion


  • glory Q

    You are the man. Keep trying to educate them, Ed. None of us will ever STOP until they are finally aware of their wrong doings.

  • Doug Stoll

    Ed, There is nothing quite like an accurate, factual and eloquent response. I am proud to have read your response, distressed that “we activists” continue to need to do this because of irresponsible propaganda. I am delighted to share that I am using your response to instruct my fifth grade class on the values of strong writing with purpose. It is respectful, clear, and illuminating. You are a hero to me.
    Well done my friend.

  • Christine

    We don’t treat human criminals in this manner who have actually done wrong to other human beings and to animals, we should not be permitting animals to be treated in this manner to sell tickets to a circus. Anyone who abuses any animal should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Anyone who is believes an animal as large as an elephant performs without being abused and mistreated is oblivious…..

  • Dawn Kennedy

    Thank you Ed, for addressing this matter in such an eloquent and heart-felt manner. I continue to hope and pray for a future world in which there are no elephants in captivity (or any other wild animals, for that matter) and in which elephants very existence is not under constant threat.

  • Elaine Livesey-Fassel

    I have been proud and privileged to know both Ed. and the now sadly deceased ,wonderfully inspiring Pat Derby for many years and have total faith in their complete and utter understanding of every facet of this magnificent creature both in the wild and in the state of captivity in its many permutations. I totally trust the judgement of Mr. Stewart and am absolutley appalled and dismayed at the misinformation espoused by Mr. Schaul. Let us hope and trust that he will rethink and apologize for his errant views for the good of any animal but especially the elephants under his ‘CARE’!

  • Marna Herrington

    Thank you Ed!

    Your intelligent, truthful words are inspiring.

    I am confused by the notion appearing in the comment section that because elephants face threats in the wild, that this is a justification for keeping and force- breeding captive elephants in small enclosures in inappropriate climates, devoid of their natural, necessary family structures. For real elephant conservation, isn’t the useful and accurate response to threats in the wild to be to work toward decreasing and managing those threats? (Non-profits like the International Fund for Wildlife Welfare and World Wildlife Fund do this every day.) Putting energy and funds toward keeping and force-breeding captive elephants will never help wild elephant survival, and since wild elephants are an intricate, vital part of the ecosystems of their native habitats, this is the only way to truly “conserve” them.

    It is a wonderful and miraculous thing that PAWS and the Elephant Sanctuary (and forward thinking zoos like the Oakland Zoo) exist for the elephants that have no choice now and must live in captivity. You guys are the front runners in elephant care- showing the way of compassion, wisdom, respect and love. May all captive elephants receive such understanding and kindness.

  • jim and sherry anderson

    Bravo, Ed. We are fortunate to have you speak up so eloquently as an advocate for the humane treatment of animals,
    The world needs more people like you.

  • Jill Li

    WOW !! I should have started reading from bottom to top…no matter, the conclusion is the same ~ Ed Stewart has the credibility of a lifetime spent rescuing, caring for and rehabilitating these majestic creatures that zooz and circuses chose to abuse and torture for profit ~ Happy, thriving elephants will always trump sad, confined victims! ~ PAWS record speaks for itself…’nuff said, end of story! All other points of view are irrelevant IMHO ~
    I am sure that Pat is smiling down on Ed for this classy rebuttal!! ~ You did great, Ed!!!

  • Kris McMartin

    Thank you for posting this excellent article Ed. I look forward to the Toronto elephants finally leaving the hell hole they currently reside at to live out the rest of their days at PAWS. Circuses use animals like they used humans with freak shows – depravity, arrogance and blatant cruelty for a buck. Most zoos, with their amusement park rides, water parks and tacky gift shops neither educate nor enlighten the masses about conservation or animal cruelty. Ed Stewart (and the late Pat Derby), Carol Buckley, Cynthia Moss, Jane Goodall, Joyce Poole, Dame Daphne Sheldrick (David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust), Lek Chailert (Elephant Nature Park), Louise Rogerson (Elephant Asia Rescue and Survival Foundation) and Katherine Connor (Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary) understand conservation. Zoos do NOT. “To put an elephant in a zoo is like putting a human in a cupboard for life. Now the worst thing we do to humans is life imprisonment for some terrible crime. Is it really humane to take a animal from its natural family and stuff it in a cupboard for life just so that a whole lot humans can come and goggle at it? I don’t think it is.” — Dame Daphne Sheldrick

  • Pat Summers

    A “Friends of Maggie” notecard showing an elephant behind bars still hangs on my bulletin board. Every time I look at it, I remember the long slog to get Maggie out of Alaska — but it finally happened!

    That was my intro to PAWS, which I have been a friend of ever since. Pat Derby and Ed Stewart are heroes to me because they are great friends of elephants and other wild animals — none of whom belong in zoos or circuses or other bizarrely cruel and unnatural environments. Wild animals belong in the wild. Period.

  • Kris McMartin

    Thank you for posting this excellent article Ed. I look forward to the Toronto elephants finally leaving the hell hole they currently reside at to live out the rest of their days at PAWS. Circuses use animals like they used humans with freak shows – depravity, arrogance and blatant cruelty for a buck. Most zoos, with their amusement park rides, water parks and tacky gift shops neither educate nor enlighten the masses about conservation or animal cruelty. Ed Stewart (and the late Pat Derby), Carol Buckley, Cynthia Moss, Jane Goodall, Joyce Poole, Dame Daphne Sheldrick (David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust), Lek Chailert (Elephant Nature Park), Louise Rogerson (Elephant Asia Rescue and Survival Foundation) and Katherine Connor (Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary) understand conservation. Zoos do NOT. “To put an elephant in a zoo is like putting a human in a cupboard for life. Now the worst thing we do to humans is life imprisonment for some terrible crime. Is it really humane to take a animal from its natural family and stuff it in a cupboard for life just so that a whole lot humans can come and goggle at it? I don’t think it is.” – Dame Daphne Sheldrick

  • Sharon Niel

    Ed Stewart and Pat Derby (Rest in peace, Pat!) have, over the years, given new meaning to the concepts of “animal welfare”, “compassion”, and “guardianship”. They have defined the facts of ‘best practices’ in animal care and especially, elephant care. They have always acquired their species knowledge first-hand, empirical, in-the-field experience.They have developed a place called ARK, where beleaguered and abused animals may come to live out their natural lives in a peaceful and nurturing environment–beautiful land where ‘an animal can just be themselves’. No tricks to learn, no deprivation tactics or abusive mental or physical abuse. Ed Stewart and Pat Derby created these places out of love and compassion for animals. It is NURVANA to all the animals that are fortunate enough to have come to reside at PAWS–those that were violently abused in “entertainment venues” from around the world, roadside shows, products of the illegal exotic animal trade, and animals privately-owned by uninformed or unscrupulous individuals.
    Regularly, Ed Stewart travels to senate hearings and congressional meetings at the Capital to speak his truth upholding current animal welfare laws and for forging new laws for their protection. He sojourns to India to aid the locals in their quest to coincide safely among India’s endemic wildlife–especially the sometimes crop-marauding Asian elephants. He works side-by-side local farmers, helping them implement effective methodologies to safe-keep crops. Ed meets with mahouts and their elephants, informing them of inherent dangers to their pachyderms on the traffic-ridden urban areas in India. International borders do not stop this man from teaching and helping people maximize their relationships with wildlife and domestic animals. At home in America, Ed Stewart educates sanctuary visitors regarding the sad and restrictive lives of animals (particularly elephants)in the entertainment industry. Realities such as constantly being immured by leg chains, being shocked by electric prods or beaten into submission by callous trainers. At the sanctuaries, Ed works closely with the highly professional, hand-picked staff of skilled animal caretakers and administrative personnel. There, he keeps his own mantra alive “letting the elephants just be elephants”. Since the loss of Pat, Ed continues his valiance toward making life better for the population of captive elephants and other captive-held animals everywhere. For Ed Stewart and Pat Derby, their actions for helping animals have never been driven by monetary ‘pay-off’ or real estate on the French Riviera…no, none of that exists. But instead – a FIERCE LOVE OF ANIMALS fueled by a PASSION SO DEEP and a FIRE STRONG WITHIN.

  • elaine strathie

    l have made it my mission to vote with my wallet. l have never supported capitve animals performing unnatural tricks. l have never, nor have my children, visited a circus or marineland. l will never forget the tragedy of a captive elephant going mad at a circus many years ago. lt’s poor life spent going around constantly in circles. And people couldn’t understand why the frustration of that unnatural life sent that elephant spiralling out of it’s mind. Zoos and circuses are NO PLACE FOR ANIMALS.

  • Ronnette Mccauely

    I would love to see a day when all petting zoos that have animal species that belong in the wild shut down. I would also love to see these animals taken out of the circus. I hate the cruelty these animals are subjected to and I think every person that has mistreated an animal should have to endure the same treatment. Thank you for your article Ed!! Oh yes, one more thing, WHATEVER SHIRLEY!!

  • Marcie and “Chris” Christensen

    Thank you Ed for speaking for the elephants. You and Pat have always supported the animals with all your heart. If anyone has had the opportunity to visit PAWS ARK 2000, you would understand that space IS an issue for elephants and that having room to roam and grass to eat and trees to play with, is the right thing for elephants. There is nothing more peaceful and wonderful than seeing an elephant being an elephant. Well done Ed, thank you!

  • Margaret Thorp

    Thank you, Ed, for your wonderful explanation of how elephants and other wild animals should be treated humanely. Short of leaving animals in their native habitats, I believe PAWS is the answer for so many of them. Here in the Detroit area, our excellent Detroit Zoo Director, Ron Kagan, had the compassion and determination to save our two elephants, Winky and Wanda, by moving them to PAWS to live out their lives with peace and dignity and excellent care.
    Thanks to your and Pat’s work, many animals will be that lucky.

  • Elizabeth Zinda

    Very well said. Elephants are not ours to use as we like for entertainment or even education. Any work aimed at conservation needs to be grounded in a deep listening to who these beings really are, and a commitment to honor every individual’s real needs for space, freedom and chosen community.

  • Carol

    Wow! The nasty comments from some of the people that do not know Ed Stewart, are amazing. I hope that these same people educate themselves regarding PAWS and join the group that supports the ideas that Ed and the late Pat Derby have dedicated their lives to. Follow the news on the PAWS website. I can’t imagine that anyone would say that they do it for profit. The staff there CARE for all of the animals. Thank you Ed, for taking the strong position.

  • Betty Springen

    Thank you Penelope Wells, Founder of Friends of Maggie in Anchorage, for stating so well how those of us who were so happy to see Maggie finally travel to PAWS. We miss her, but it brings so much joy to our hearts to see the reports & videos of Maggie romping so happily with her African sisters at PAWS.

    And thanks to Bob Barker, Ed Stewart, Pat Derby & the hundreds of others who gave Maggie her life back!

  • sandra zaninovich

    Pat, Ed, and their ilk should be canonized way before the Pope (though I was quite fond of John Paul, even as an agnostic). The good that these people do will live on long after them in the legacy they have left for these magnificent animals. My eternal gratitude to them; I only wish I had been as lucky, to have found life’s work of such tremendous fulfillment and ability to help our fellow animals, but ones not lucky enough to have voices of their own. Lives truly lived in a state of grace.

  • Nadia von Ballmoos Borioli

    Maggie is a ray of sunshine at PAWS.
    She looks like she smiles all the time.
    Thank you Alaska Zoo for letting her go.
    At Galt she had a new start at life…
    It makes me so happy to see her roaming, play and visiting with her friends,

  • Elizabeth

    I would like to commend ed and pat for there dedication to keeping animal well taking care of and most of all free and satisfied with there environment . I wish there would be an end to all zoos and all animals who have to live confined and in poor living conditions I love animals all all of those who consider there well being and there needs.

  • Vincent Tipaldo

    Visiting the Performing Animal Welfare Society in northern California will forever change the way one experiences any animal in captivity. It certainly changed me. Short of allowing animals – such as the splendid elephants at PAWS – the freedom to roam in their own habitats unthreatened by humans, this is very close to the life they deserve. Comparatively, zoos and circuses are prisons if not outright places of torture.

  • Hannah

    Ellespot – how naive! The only reason that you can see an elephant “behave” well in the presence of a bullhook without it being used is because they have had it used on them before and so the mere presence of it is enough to make them do what they think their handler wants them to do in order to avoid being hit with it! Educate yourself – look up the “breaking of the spirit” (phajaan) on youtube – almost every Asian elephant in captivity has undergone this barbaric practice, and many of the Asian elephants in Western zoos came from these places. It’s not just circuses that are cruel to elephants – in Thailand elephant camps that take tourists around on their backs have permanent damage (as well as scars both physical and emotional from their brutal training), and how do you think they made the elephants paint, play soccer or play musical instruments? Please, don’t be naive – learn about what really happens and then tell me that bull hooks aren’t always used to hurt the elephant!

  • Maggie

    Shirley, instead of name-calling, why can’t you refute the statements made against the circus and free-contact zoos? Please enlighten us on how great circus elephants do while being chained on concrete or in box cars for 16-24 hours a day. Please tell us how wonderful Ringling’s bull elephants can adapt to being held alone in a concrete cell with a chain on each leg, 24/7/365, as soon as he is old enough to be “too much to handle” to use as entertainment in the circus (I weep for poor Barack, born in 2008 at Ringling’s Florida elephant prison compound. He is in for this horrific life once he becomes too much to handle). Please explain how it’s so great for circus elephants to be chained on one front leg and the opposite back leg for at least 16 hours a day during the non-circus season; and to travel chained in box cars for up to 24 hours during the circus season. You can’t refute the statements and that is why you name-call. These are all statements made by Ringling employees during the trial. Carol Buckley testified that she saw dents in the concrete where the elephants’ feet stood. How long does it take for an elephant to stand on concrete before she puts a dent in it?

  • Bellachella

    Thank you Ed. I’ve been following your work for years and you are one of my true heroes! Your courage and dedication inspires me everyday. PAWS is an incredible home for the animals you rescued.
    I’ve seen the Have Trunk Will Travel videos of the trainers beating their elephants and they were absolutely sickening. I don’t know what it is about elephants that bring-out this kind of savagery and monstrosity in humans. The twisted self-serving logic of breeding elephants for entertainment is so self-serving. If the elephants survive, then they are often traded from their families anyway, destroying their small family units.
    The zoo in our area has a tiny enclosure for elephants and while the staff may love the elephants, it is totally inadequate. And far as the bull hook goes: it’s a weapon used to dominate elephants. The zoo and circus folks can say we don’t know what we’re talking about, but I’ve seen it used this way dozens of times, so you can save your breath saying otherwise. Are there decent people working in some circuses and zoos? Yeah, probably. That doesn’t marginalize the plight of these magnificent giants, who are being massacred in the wild and enslaved everywhere else.

  • Al McClain

    Thank you Ed, for all you do for “retired” performing animals. If only there were many more organizations like PAWS, the world would be a vastly better place.

  • Amanda

    I completely agree with Hannah, from Australia, and not only has the bullhook ‘been used before on them’ but virtually all captive elephants have been ‘trained’ as babies – ripped away from their mothers and brutally tortured, usually around 2 to 3 years old, so they can be easily controlled. I had the misfortune of witnessing the ‘second stage’ in Asia and have never been the same since! What seems missing in this conversation is that, as a result of being chained and beaten with hooks and nails plus sleep deprivation, the hook becomes a symbol of terror and pain. This is why what ‘elespot’ writes : “a tool is only as abusive as the person who wields it” is incorrect. This does not mean that every elephant caretaker in a zoo is cruel. we know that many love the elephants, and are doing their best under the circumstances. I agree with Sandra, from L.A.: Pat (rest in peace) and Ed are Leaders in in this world, my mentors and role models for us all. Take a stand for what you believe in. Pat’s legacy does live on, in SO many ways.

  • Marsha McIntosh

    Bravo Ed!
    Your response was so much needed to correct all the falsities in online post, “Captive Elephant Management”.
    I’ve been lucky to have visited PAWS several times it is not the wild but is the next best thing to it. The elephants must think they have gone to heaven after arriving at PAWS.

  • Barbara Litt

    Elephants love their families and their freedom just as much as we do. It amazes me when I think about how people can rationalize, and try to turn their bad decisions into just behavior. It is 2013 and human beings are still so inhumane. Elephants, and other wildlife, should be able to live a natural life the way mother nature intended. The animals were all born with that right, yet human beings think that there is nothing wrong with taking that right away. It is so unfair!!!!!

  • Dixie H.

    Ed Stewart is correct. There is no compassionate way to keep elephants in captivity. They are social creatures and the mothers need to be with their young; just as any other species. The idea that “humans” know what is best is ludicrous. PAWS is a wonderful sancturary. Elephants do NOT belong in zoos and they most certainly do NOT belong in a circus where they are constantly abused. Boycott any circus that has animals. Living feeling creatures are not necesary to a circus. Let the human counterpart take their place and see how long they last!

  • Sharon

    My heart was truly touched when I met elephants in Thailand who were “rescued” but still managed by mahouts who resorted to the hook b/c of traditional attitudes. What’s worse for us all, elephants and living creatures, is the massive slaughter ongoing in Africa. All for ivory. The evil insistence upon “owning” precious items carved from ivory is responsible. the market for ivory must be re-educated to covet something else that does no harm.

  • Laurie

    I have always admired elephants. I watched ‘An Apology To Elephants’ and am heartbroken. I just don’t understand. Our country is suppose to be against animal abuse. Why is this happening? Why is it allowed? Why isn’t it stopped? I can’t stand this.

  • elephant highway

    I like it…….

  • Susan Roberts

    Keep fighting the good fight Ed. Every day more and more humans are waking up to the truth. Thank you for all you have done.

  • Barbara Manning

    Thank you Ed. The fight to save these beautiful animals is not over yet. We gave Wanda and Winky to you with our blessings because we knew they should be free to roam at will and that the care your team gives them is amazing. Winky died happy and I know this is so because I watched her on the webcam. Many thanks to you and Pat and all the staff.

  • Jana Wyles

    Thank you Ed. I enjoyed your blog and update. To all those following, please put your money where your heart is right now. The only way to continue great works such as this is to support them, financially. Every little bit helps, and large donations help even more, so give. It’ll do ya good!:)

  • JP

    To all the Bullhook Supporters & Circus Huggers on here, you might want to read Dr. Hutchins article, specifically his view on the Zoo-Circus relationship (very last comment). But, I’m sure since he disagrees with you his opinion will be irrelevant and branded an extremist too…

  • Harlan Bundrock

    Leave the elephants safely in their own nature area and not in a zoo. The same goes for ALL animals captured and forced to be gawked at by evil people. If I had the key to the cages, I would free the animals.

    As far as hunters go, they are all fools. Give the animals guns to hunt the hunters.

  • ole schmidtke

    For me this page is strange reading all the comments. Yes elphants should be kept in a better way at zoos and bullhooks should be baned from every place keeping elephants. I do agree with that 110 % and there for happy that so many zoos are stopping having elephants, especially if they dont want to have ok enclosures like at PAWS. Still Im angry and confused by how farm animals are kept at a lot of zoos in the USA. Many of the enclosures are more soviet style than EU style, and the USA ought to be the frontrunner in stead of sleeping in class. If we in general accept mistreating of animals in public gardens, why should farms stop treating farm animals even wors?

  • tammara tapp

    I agree with your article in many respects. In some points I believe your article is impossible. Because of shrinking habitats and poaching it is impossible to leave elephants alone in the wild. If responsible zoos and sanctuaries do not allow their elephants to breed they will be gone soon forever. I have seen some of abuses you describe and they are truly sickening. But I have also seen sanctuaries use target and clicker training to good effect, for enabling handlers to check the health of the animals they care for , maintaining foot health, and allowing vets to see to the animals. Yes the young were trained, but there were no chains and no matter all separation. Mothers were there in the corral with their young observing.I don’t believe that general condemnation ever really is correct. Each situation needs to be judged on a case by case basis. And while I would rather never see wild animals captive it’s just not possible anymore. The only way some species are going to survive now is with zoos and sanctuaries protecting these animals and trading gametes to keep a healthy genetic population in the hopes that some day they can be reintroduced to their old habitats. Maybe that day won’t be in your life time or mine but if we don’t keep the species alive it will never happen at all.

  • Raphael

    All the evidence seems to point against zoos. They claim to be conservation orientated, but how can we believe that after the Danish zoo killed a lion and giraffe? This article explains more reasons why no one who loves animals should ever go to a zoo!

  • Geraldine Daly

    A person who holds a bullhook let alone use it on magnificent elephants, are cruel and devoid of empathy for feeling, sentinent beigns. The only consolation is that they are in the minority.. There are by far, many more good people in the world than bad

  • Holly

    My friend and I made a cute poem/ animation about this topic.. (

    I wouldn’t consider myself an “extremist” but I can see that the large majority of zoo’s certainly prioritise profit over animal welfare. ZOO’S ARE A BUSINESS. Period. They strip the animal’s of their freedom, deprive them of their natural environment, put them on display for peering eyes and in some cases they sell the animals to canned hunting farms or research labs or circuses, when they are too old to be considered “cute”.

  • Rina Hack

    I worked at the Missouri Zoo in 2013 when our 41 year old elephant, Patience, trampled and kill a keeper. Patience was a beloved and kind elephant, who had been in the zoo for years, and one we had never had problems with before. so it amazed me that she would do this. After the incident I took a step back and realized the tragedy was our own fault. We had caused this horrible thing to happen, not Patience.

  • Anita Tsutsunen

    SAnctuaries are best in this world

  • Francine Morales

    This is just stupid. This is also just crazy why would they even do this to elephants.

  • Alberto Garcia

    After when I watched and read the articles I had felt bad for them because they are so many that are dying

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