African Elephant Lulu and the Transformational Power of Sanctuary
Animal Stories from All-Creatures.org

FROM PAWS Performing Animal Welfare Society
September 2020

When she first arrived at the sanctuary and other elephants approached, Lulu was almost paralyzed with fear and anxiety. She would display overly submissive behavior, literally crawling on the ground on her elbows and knees.... Today Lulu confidently heads up her elephant group that includes Maggie and Toka.

Elephant Lulu

Lulu arrived at ARK 2000 from the San Francisco Zoo in 2005. It was only the second trip of her life. The first was after she was captured in Swaziland at age two and sold to the zoo. Her mother was likely killed in a cull, a traumatic event that Lulu surely would have witnessed. In a flash she had lost everything – her protective mother and tight-knit family, a dynamic life on the African savanna, and her freedom.

At the zoo, Lulu was housed with Maybelle, with whom she would spend 34 years. PAWS’ co-founder, the late Pat Derby, wrote about their troubled relationship: “According to reports from keepers, Maybelle would hold Lulu down and prevent her from moving, push her out of the barn and into the moat, block her way to food and anything else that she wanted, precluding her ability to make any choice without the express permission of the older elephant.” (We can’t blame Maybelle for her behavior toward Lulu. She, too, had experienced her own harrowing capture and separation from her mother at age two.)

Lulu’s history made it a challenge to introduce her to the two African elephants at PAWS, 71 (now deceased) and Mara. When the other elephants approached, Lulu was almost paralyzed with fear and anxiety. She would display overly submissive behavior, literally crawling on the ground on her elbows and knees. This expression of her distress was both sad and alarming. However, Pat and PAWS President and Co-founder Ed Stewart provided constant attention and worked slowly but surely with Lulu until she could relax and feel comfortable with her new companions.

Elephants at Ark 2000
African elephants Lulu, Maggie and Toka at ARK 2000

Today Lulu confidently heads up her elephant group that includes Maggie and Toka. Together, they roam the hills of their expansive natural habitat, foraging on grass and trees, mudding and dusting themselves, socializing and exploring. To be clear, Lulu is not the matriarch, a word that is often misused. Matriarchs are the leaders of their family groups, generally the oldest and largest adult female who helps ensure the group’s survival through her long memory, social skills, courage and wisdom, especially in times of crisis.

Lulu may be the smallest African elephant at PAWS, but she’s made the biggest transformation of all. Her story demonstrates the power of true sanctuaries to rehabilitate captive wildlife into the magnificent animals they are by providing large and complex natural environments, loving care, and the freedom to make choices in their lives. We can never replace all that an elephant like Lulu has lost, but we can provide an enriching and safe place where she and other elephants can heal and thrive.

You can “adopt” Lulu for one year or donate for her lifelong care on the website: PAWS.


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