PAWS saddened by loss of Sabu, oldest Asian bull elephant

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PAWS saddened by loss of gentle giant Sabu, our oldest Asian bull elephant

[Ed. Note: A poem about Sabu: Giant Footsteps By Brian Busta]

From Performing Animals Welfare Society (PAWS)
January 2012


In Memoriam
Sabu: 11/1/82 to 1/11/12

San Andreas, CA - On Wednesday, January 11, 2012, Sabu, PAWS' 29-year-old Asian bull elephant, succumbed to the effects of severe arthritis in multiple joints. We will miss this gentle giant.

Born November 1, 1982, at Portland Zoo, Sabu was transferred to a circus in 1984, and then retired to PAWS' ARK 2000 Sanctuary in September 2010. Here Sabu joined Nicholas, PAWS' youngest bull elephant, also retired from a circus, and half brother to Sabu.

The two bulls were fathered by Tunga, an Asian bull at Portland Zoo. Tunga was transferred to a circus facility after Sabu was born, and later sired Nicholas at that facility. Both Nicholas and Sabu performed in circuses when they were two years old. Nicholas was retired to PAWS when he was 13 years old, the first bull elephant at the ARK 2000 Sanctuary. Sabu, PAWS' second bull, arrived when Nicholas was 17. The two boys were close enough to see and communicate.

"It almost appeared that they knew they were related," Pat Derby, one of PAWS founders, commented. "It was obvious that they were communicating, although humans never hear the low frequency sounds that elephants use to gather information."

PAWS has keepers on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Pat Derby and Ed Stewart, PAWS directors who live on the property, were immediately alerted by the night keeper who was with Sabu when his giant body collapsed in his large dirt sleeping stall at approximatly 3:30 on the morning of January 11. PAWS' veterinarian, Dr. Gai, and elephant supervisor Brian Busta, arrived shortly after Pat and Ed, and all agreed that efforts to lift him to a standing posture would be stressful, and his condition indicated that he would be unable to remain standing.

Sabu was beloved by all who worked with him. He was described by Brian Busta, as a "big, beautiful boy who was gentle, very intelligent and a best friend."
A team of pathologists from the University of California Davis conducted Sabu's necropsy and preliminary results were reported as "severe arthritis in multiple joints."

Dr. Gai stated, "The degree of severity is what I would expect to see in a 50+ year old captive Asian. I think we were all surprised to see arthritis like this in someone so relatively young."

Tuy Hoa, Sabu's maternal grandmother at Portland Zoo, was reported to have died "very young from crippling arthritis."

Nancy Burnet, Director of Bob Barker's DJ&T Foundation which funded Sabu's barn, pool and habitat, wrote to Sabu's keepers, "The bigger tragedy would have been if he'd never made it to PAWS - you were Sabu's angels. . . Your constant love and kindness created a wonderful bond. . . How wonderful it worked out so that he spent his last year at PAWS, luxuriating in the relief his pond provided, and moving about freely."


The Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) is a nonprofit, captive wildlife protection organization that was founded in 1984. PAWS cares for more than 100 animals at its three wildlife sanctuaries in Northern California. At ARK 2000, a 2,300-acre, state-of-the-art sanctuary, animals live in spacious natural habitats with rolling hills, lush natural grasses, trees, lakes and ponds. PAWS' ARK 2000 sanctuary is home to three female Asian elephants, three female African elephants and two bull Asian elephants, each having been successfully relocated from zoos or the circus industry. At PAWS, the elephants are free to explore the hillsides, splash in their pools, graze and nap as they please. The elephants, and the other rescued wildlife at PAWS, receive humane care, 24 hours a day, and because of ARK 2000, they have a bright and promising future.