Pat Derby 1943-2013

Pat Derby 1943-2013

Founder of Ark 2000 never forgot the pachyderms she loved best

By Lionel Rolfe 02/28/2013

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Pat Derby, founder of a 2,300-acre refuge for elephants in Northern California’s Mother Lode region, where at least one of the victims of alleged pachyderm abuse at the Los Angeles Zoo lived out her last days, has died.

Derby, 69, died Feb. 15 from throat cancer at her home in San Andreas, about 40 miles outside of Sacramento. Ed Stewart, her companion of 37 years, was at her side.

Derby and her former husband, Ted Derby, met in the early 1960s while working as musicians in San Francisco but soon became famous Hollywood trainers, keeping their animals at a ranch in Placerita Canyon in Newhall. Even after their 1964 marriage ended in the mid 1970s, the two kept working together and operating wild animal orphanages — a court of last resort for abandoned and abused creatures that otherwise would have been euthanized.

One of their more famous animal actors was Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion, star of the television series “Daktari.” The cougar appearing in the long-running Lincoln-Mercury television ad was also one of their wards. The Derbys didn’t use whips, but instead utilized what they called “affection training.”

In 1976, Pat Derby wrote a book called “The Lady & Her Tiger.” Hollywood celebrities supported her, raising millions of dollars which were used to acquire land in the Mother Lode, an area nearly four miles wide in part and 120 miles long, extending from  El Dorado County in the north to Mariposa County to the south, for Ark 2000.

In 1984, Derby and Stewart formed the Performing Animals Welfare Society, or PAWS, which brought attention to the treatment of wild animals in captivity. After opening a sanctuary for elephants in Galt, they opened Ark 2000 in San Andreas.

“She was the first to champion the cause of performing animals, and today, because of her tireless work, and fierce determination, most animal protection organizations now have captive wildlife programs that address the issues of performing animals,” PAWS, which provides refuge for elephants, wild cats, bears, coyotes and monkeys at three wildlife facilities in Northern California, said in a statement issued to Reuters News Service after Derby’s death.

Most recently, Derby played a major role in a controversy concerning the Pachyderm Forest at the Los Angeles Zoo, which was resolved in the city’s favor in July by a Superior Court judge.

Retired game show host Bob Barker had offered to pay $1.5 million to transport Billy the elephant from the zoo to Ark 2000, where he could join Ruby, a former LA Zoo elephant. Stars such as Cher and Lily Tomlin showed up at LA City Council meetings, where there were furious arguments about the zoo and its beleaguered elephants.

Actress Betty White, another well-known animal lover, defended the zoo’s treatment of its elephants, despite the opinion of Superior Court Judge John L. Segal, who said the elephants were treated badly and forced to live terrible lives. But Segal stopped just short of saying the zoo’s Pachyderm Forestshould be closed because of their mistreatment.

Segal, according to the Los Angeles Times, ruled that Billy could remain at the LA Zoo elephant facility, but only if zoo keepers regularly exercised the animal and did not use electrical shocks to control it. The judge further ordered the zoo to soften the soil of the enclosure.

Segal also had some harsh words for the zoo’s handling of elephants, writing the animals lives “are supervised, managed, and controlled by zoo employees who appear to be in the dark about normal and abnormal behavior of elephants, in denial about the physical and emotional difficulties of the elephants they manage and whose lives they control, and under the misconception that the elephants prefer to live their lives in an exhibit with human companions rather than with other elephants. The elephants are hardly, as defendants contend, ‘thriving.’” Be that as it may, Segal’s rulingkilled Barker’s plans to send Billy to Ark 2000.

Despite the title of her bestselling book, Derby later confessed to how much she loved elephants.

“It had to begin with elephants. I was born in love with all elephants; not for a reason that I know, not because of their individual qualities — wisdom, kindness, power, grace, patience, loyalty. But for what they are altogether, for their entire elephantness,” she once said. 


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