Giant retirees make news in Mother Lode

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When Pat Derby and Ed Stewart started moving their animal rights organization's headquarters to San Andreas last month, they brought some hefty baggage with them.

In a modified trailer, they toted two African elephants to their organization's new 2,300-acre property on Pool Station Road.

"We're still sleeping in the barns," said Derby, referring to the two, gigantic 20,000-square-foot barns built for the elephants. "We sort of alternate sleeping in the barn with two other keepers who also live on the site."

More animals are on the way. Next to arrive will be two Asian elephants, and they could appear as soon as weather permits.

The new exotic wildlife refuge, called Ark 2000, is now the pride and joy of Derby and Stewart's organization, the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS).

But, as is often the case in Calaveras County, Derby and Stewart could not build something so massive without sparking some controversy.

For weathering the storms and bringing the largest residents ever to the foothills, Derby and Stewart husband and wife and co-founders of PAWS made The Union Democrat's Top 10 Newsmakers list.

PAWS, an international nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members worldwide, rescues animals from abusive situations and houses them for the remainder of their lives. Many animals rescued by PAWS come from zoos, movie sets, circuses or hunting ranches.

"We love it here, we really do, and so do the elephants," Derby said of the new San Andreas site. "The elephants have been having a grand time here."

Derby and Stewart have a house on the new PAWS property. They plan to sleep there instead of inside the barns once the elephants are settled in.

In her younger years, Derby was a Hollywood animal trainer living on acreage near Los Angeles. She eventually became spokesperson for Lincoln-Mercury, where she also helped train the company's mascot, a cougar.

The Union Democrat
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