Big Anniversary for African Elephant Mara: 30 years at PAWS
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FROM PAWS Performing Animal Welfare Society
January 2020

When the Friends of Mara first contacted PAWS about providing a lifetime home for Mara, they asked that we promise them three things: Mara would never again be on chains, no bullhooks would ever be used, and she would never be bred. We've kept that promise.

Elephant Mara

This month we are marking a very important anniversary: It was 30 years ago that African elephant Mara arrived at PAWS. She is the sanctuary’s longest-term resident and remains one of our more colorful personalities, known for her fun-loving spirit, athleticism, and high energy. She loves to push on trees, eat leafy branches, and dig deep holes in the ground to create mud wallows and dusting areas – just as wild elephants do. Mara is also a survivor, as you’ll see from her story.

Mara was born into an extended elephant family in Kruger National Park in South Africa where she would have been raised by her mother, grandmother, aunts and older female siblings. She would have played with other calves, explored a rich and complex natural world, and learned how to behave in elephant society. Her family would have protected her no matter what – but they were no match for what was to come.

When Mara was less than two years old, she witnessed her mother and other adult family members killed in a cull - a government sanctioned slaughter of elephants to reduce the size of a population. The traumatized calf was captured as part of the operation and sold into captivity, ending up at the Happy Hollow Zoo in San Jose, California. There, she was named "Baby Mara." As the zoo's lone elephant, she "entertained" visitors during the day – but behind the scenes she was at times immobilized in chains and trained with a bullhook.

Mara’s life was soon to change again when the Happy Hollow Zoo decided to sell her to a circus in Mexico. Fortunately, a kindly group called Friends of Mara took up her cause, and a generous mother and daughter stepped in and donated the funds needed to purchase Mara. (This family is still helping Mara and PAWS all these years later, and we are extremely appreciative of their support.) Friends of Mara sent the young elephant to Florida where she lived with more than 80 other imported elephant orphans on a 600-acre estate owned by businessman Arthur Jones. After a few years Jones’ fortunes changed and he began selling off the elephants. Mara was again slated for sale to a circus.

Elephants 71 Mara

PAWS co-founders Ed Stewart and the late Pat Derby had previously rescued a sickly baby elephant named "71" from the same Florida estate. When they heard about Mara's impending sale, they alerted Friends of Mara and quickly moved to rescue her from a lifetime of misery in the circus. Ed Stewart enlisted the help of a local truck driver and the two men headed out on the 6,000-mile, round-trip journey to Florida to pick up the young elephant and bring her back to PAWS. Mara arrived at PAWS' Galt sanctuary in January 1990 and shared a habitat with 71 (above). They were the first elephants to be rescued by a sanctuary in the U.S. The two remained companions until 71's death in 2008.

Elephants Mara Tika

Today, Mara continues to roam her expansive habitat at ARK 2000, along with African elephant Thika (left). Together they forage on fresh vegetation, nap in the sun, and explore a complex natural environment that changes with the seasons and offers stimulating smells, sounds, and choices.

It also happens that Mara is turning 40 – so we are celebrating two milestones for this beloved elephant! Elephants in their forties are considered to be in the prime of their lives and, in nature, would not only be reproducing but playing an important role in their families. They might even be matriarchs. Sadly, in captivity many elephants are considered to be “old” or “geriatric” at this age due to arthritis and foot disease that sets in at an early age due to captive conditions in zoos and circuses.

PAWS is proud to have provided Mara with a life of stability, a spacious and enriching natural environment, peace, and dignity. I hope you will join us in celebrating this very special elephant’s milestone month with us!

Elephants Mara Tika
Mara and Thika at the African elephants' lake at ARK 2000.

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