Detroit Elephants Retire in Northern California

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(San Andreas, CA)
Wednesday, April 13, 2005

It's a sunny, warm and windy spring day at the Foothills wildlife refuge run by the Performing Animal Welfare Society. PAWS co-founder Pat Derby is feeding one of two Asian elephants. The pair recently arrived from Detroit.  

" All right! Good girl. Good girl, Winky."

The four ton elephant is named Winky, and she's eating a lunch of apples, bananas and an ample helping of straw. Her companion, Wanda, is sunning herself in a grassy area nearby. Derby says it's important to make the pachyderms feel at home.
"Maintaining and protecting habitat for these guys is really the most important component. You can't replicate all the subtleties of their life in captivity. We try to hit the high points."

The Ark 2000 sanctuary is one of three operated by PAWS, and it's a retirement home of sorts for the pachyderms. Wanda is 46 and Winky is 51 -- golden years for elephants in captivity. And like many who approach retirement, the pair needed to move to a warmer climate. The Detroit winters were becoming painful for the arthritic elephants so zoo officials accepted an invitation to move them to the 23-hundred acre Ark-2000 habitat.

Scott Carter is with the Detroit Zoo. 
"We felt that the sanctuary provides things that the zoos don't currently. Not that zoos couldn't, but certainly no zoo has 35 acres for their elephants."

But the elephants' trip to California was not without controversy. The plans had to be put on hold for at least a year after a zoological organization questioned the move. The elephants were stuck in Detroit for another winter. The issue was finally resolved last month. Wanda and Winky arrived last Friday after making the three day, 23-hundred mile trip to California in a spacious tractor-trailer.

Rick Wendt accompanied the pair on the journey. He says they were good travelers.
"They had to stay in the trailer the whole time, because we're in protected contact, and basically if you let them out of the trailer we couldn't get them back in. It would stop every three or four hours and offer them water and food. They did remarkably well."

Wanda and Winky now share the sanctuary with six other elephants. 

Pat Derby says the public will be able to see them on the Internet.  A web camera will soon be focused on the pair. But elephant enthusiasts shouldn't expect much excitement. Wanda and Winky will spend their retirement eating, sleeping and roaming the sanctuary's green sloping hills.