By SCOTT PESZNECKER
Two African elephants now live just a few miles outside downtown San Andreas, on land owned by an international animal rights group called the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS).
The pachyderms were trucked to the society's recently completed Ark 2000 facility two weeks ago, but information about their arrival was kept quiet until they were settled.
Their new home, a 2,300-acre wildlife refuge, has two gigantic 20,000-square-foot elephant barns, each fitted with warm pools, heated floors and enough room for 10 elephants.
The female elephants, Mara and 71 (named after her number in a Florida herd, from which she came), are 20. They've lived most of their lives at the society's 30-acre property in Galt.
PAWS co-founder Pat Derby said "it's incredible" to finally have the animals settled in at the new site.
"The barn is wonderful," Derby said. "It's nice to wake up in the morning and see those hills."
PAWS rescues animals from abusive situations often from circuses, zoos and hunting ranches and houses them through the remainder of their lives. The group has about 45,000 members worldwide.
As of now, PAWS has no plans to put the elephants on public display, although there might come a time when school groups will be able to tour the Ark 2000 site and see the giant residents.
Derby and her husband, Ed Stewart, the society's other co-founder, have been camping out in the elephant barn overnight to keep the animals company, despite their new house on the Ark 2000 property just a short distance away.
"The only familiar thing to 71 and Mara is Ed and me," Derby said. "We're their only security that everything is OK."
Using watermelons and other tasty treats, the elephants were lured into their moving trailer. Derby and Stewart rode in the trailer with the elephants from Galt to San Andreas.
Derby said it was the first time adult elephants have been moved without force or restraints.
"We rode inside the trailer with them and they were fine," Derby said.