Asian Elephant Prince: His Touching Story
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FROM PAWS Peforming Animal Welfare Society
June 2019

When Prince first arrived at PAWS, he was aggressive and afraid, so the first thing we had to do was earn his trust.

Elephant Prince

On any given day at PAWS' ARK 2000 sanctuary, you will see Asian elephant Prince traversing his enclosure, engaged in selecting tasty morsels of grass or other foods, or maybe swimming and splashing in one of his two pools – a favorite pastime. Or you may see him peacefully napping on the hillside.

Prince was born Chang Dee at what is now the Oregon Zoo in Portland, on May 24, 1987 (he just turned 32). His mother, Me-Tu, was also born at the zoo. She was euthanized at the young age of 34 due to foot disease; captive conditions contribute to this painful condition. His father, Hugo, was taken from his wild family in Asia when he was just a calf and spent about 10 years in the circus before coming to Portland. Like Prince's mother, Hugo died prematurely at age 43.

When Prince was just 16 months old – an age at which elephants are still nursing and totally dependent on their mothers – his life changed forever when he was transferred to a circus. Elephants in circuses spend most of their lives on leg chains, intensively confined, and are cruelly controlled with the bullhook. We don’t know much about Prince's life during the next 20 years or so, or what may have happened before his arrival at PAWS. What we can tell you is that he was donated voluntarily to PAWS, on request, by Feld Entertainment, the parent company of the now defunct Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

When Prince first arrived at our ARK 2000 sanctuary in July 2011, he repeatedly dusted himself and then took a long nap on a pile of soft soil in his barn. But there was much work to be done. An important part of PAWS’ work is rehabilitation of the animals in our care, and Prince was no exception. He was aggressive and afraid, so the first thing we had to do was earn his trust. Our staff worked patiently with Prince, using reward-based training and kind words. With time, he learned that no one was going to hit, threaten or punish him. No bullhooks or chains are ever used at PAWS. Our positive relationship with Prince allowed him to feel relaxed and secure, and let his true personality emerge.

Today, Prince emits a friendly “chirp” whenever he wants the attention of his caregivers or water out of a hose (many elephants seem to enjoy fresh, running water). He likes most foods, but don’t try to feed him white potatoes – they are definitely not his favorite! Prince loves to be outdoors in his habitat – day or night, rain or shine – where he can take in the sights and sounds of the natural world around him. 

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