She will be missed by the elephants.
Patricia Derby, founder and operator of the Performing Animals Welfare Society (PAWS) Ark 2000 sanctuary in San Andreas, Calif., died Friday of throat cancer at 69, her family announced.
Ark 2000 is where the Detroit Zoo's aging Asian elephants Wanda and Winky were sent to live in 2005 after zoo director Ron Kagan decided that it was inhumane to keep elephants in a cold northern climate.
"This is an enormous loss for everyone who cares about the relationship between people and animals. She really was a kind of Mother Teresa of sanctuaries," said Kagan, her friend for nearly 30 years.
Winky died at 56 in 2008. Wanda, 54, is still living at Ark 2000. The northern California refuge, about an hour north of Yosemite National Park, spreads out over 2,300 acres, with a dry, hot climate that is ideal for elephants.
Derby was an outspoken advocate for elephants and other animals used in zoos, circuses and other performances.
She began as an animal trainer in Hollywood 36 years ago, working with Lincoln Mercury's "Sign of the Cat" cougars and also on "Lassie," "Flipper" and other animal TV shows. After seeing widespread abuse of performing animals, she wrote a 1976 expose book, "The Lady and Her Tiger." She launched PAWS in 1984, which became the first U.S. elephant sanctuary.
In the past few months as Derby's health declined, Kagan sent Detroit Zoo experts to check on and help with the elephants. He said some zookeepers and veterinarians will continue to be involved, something Derby would have wanted.
"To some extent, Pat realized there was a gap between most people who cared for elephants and what needed to be a different future for the plight of elephants in captivity," Kagan said, adding that Derby quietly but persistently over the years profoundly changed the way the public and zoos treated their elephants.
"That is one of many areas in which she excelled," Kagan said. "She really was responsible for saving the lives of many animals, not all of them charismatic like lions or elephants."
Free Press reporters traveled west with Wanda and Winky in 2005 and later followed up with many other articles about the elephants and ways to visit them.
No immediate funeral is planned, and the family requests no flowers, but those wishing to honor Derby can make a donation to PAWS in her memory, at www.pawsweb.org.
Contact Ellen Creager: 313-222-6498 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ellencreager
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OCTOBER 31, 2014
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