Toka and Thika: Four Years at ARK 2000
Animal Stories from


PAWS Performing Animal Welfare Society
October 2017

[For background info read Toronto Zoo Elephant Victory]

PAWS is honored to provide a lifelong home for Thika and Toka. It is incredibly satisfying to see them stroll through the grass, bathe and splash in a mud hole, and explore their environment in the company of other elephants.

elephants Mara Thika
Mara and Thika by the African elephant lake at ARK 2000

Four years ago PAWS welcomed African elephants Thika and Toka to our ARK 2000 captive wildlife sanctuary, where each day they can be seen roaming their spacious natural habitats. The third elephant who arrived with Toka and Thika from the Toronto Zoo, our much loved Iringa, was humanely euthanized in 2015 following a long history of degenerative joint and foot disease, the leading reasons for euthanasia of elephants in captivity.

Thika elephant
This month marks Thika's 37th birthday. She was born on October 18, 1980, at the Toronto Zoo. Happy Birthday, Thika!

When new elephants first arrive at ARK 2000, there is always a period of transition. As PAWS co-founder, the late Pat Derby, used to say, we work on "elephant time." This means that elephants are given the space, respect and time they need to get settled in, for however long that takes. During that transition time, we get to know more about the elephants' personalities and preferences, including affinities and comfort levels with other elephants. As a result, Thika has become best friends with Mara, our longest resident at PAWS, and Toka has become attached to Maggie and Lulu.

In nature, female elephants live in tight-knit family groups in which they form enduring, lifelong bonds, and they remain with their mothers for life. The family group would not naturally include unrelated elephants. In contrast, most captive elephants were taken from their natal families in the wild as babies and exported for display in zoos and circuses, where they are housed with unrelated elephants.

In captivity elephants typically cannot choose their cage mates. Among these mostly unrelated elephants, some will get along and even form close bonds with other elephants, while others may merely tolerate one another. Some may simply be incompatible with one or more other elephants. Incompatibility can lead to bullying, injuries and even deaths, as elephants are often unable to escape one another in confined spaces.

elephant Toka napping
After a morning mud bath Toka takes a nap.

By the time elephants arrive at PAWS they have distinct life histories that affect their behavior and attitudes toward other elephants. Fortunately, at ARK 2000 we have the time to observe the elephants and let them tell us what would be best for them - this is one of the many ways they can make choices, which we fully encourage and respect. We also have the space and flexibility to create the social blend of elephants that will be the most beneficial for everyone.

Mara and Thika, who are the same age, have proven to be a good combination. Thika is the only captive born elephant among the Africans. She follows Mara up and down the hills of the habitat, and they are rarely more than a few feet away from each other. Perhaps Thika is learning from the active and confident Mara. And during the times that Thika has taken a solo swim in the lake, Mara is never far away. Sadly, Thika's mother rejected her shortly after birth. In nature, female elephants learn how to care for their babies by observing their own mothers, grandmothers, sisters and aunts, and also by helping to care for their own siblings when they are young. In captivity, it is not uncommon for mothers to reject their own calves, or even kill them, as they lack the nurturing, supportive family structure of a wild family.

elephants Toka Maggie Lulu
Lulu, Maggie and Toka

Toka, Maggie and Lulu are another success story. These three elephants easily integrated with one another, and can usually be found close together as they forage on natural vegetation, explore their habitat, or just rest. Toka has joined Lulu in "standing guard" over Maggie when she takes an afternoon nap. The elephants will remain until Maggie rises, and then go about their usual activities.

PAWS is honored to provide a lifelong home for Thika and Toka. It is incredibly satisfying to see them stroll through the grass, bathe and splash in a mud hole, and explore their environment in the company of other elephants. We are also happy that our keepers and veterinarians have developed close, trusting relationships with Thika and Toka, which also helped smooth the transition to their new lives at PAWS.

Return to: Animal Stories