In Memoriam Pat Derby, June 7, 1943 – February 15, 2013

It is with the deepest sadness that I write to report that the wonderful Pat Derby, one of the world’s elephant champions, died on Friday the 15th February 2013.

I’ve known Pat, her partner Ed Stewart and their work for many, many years. I’ve visited them frequently, firstly at their Performing Animals Welfare Society animal rescue facility in Galt, California, and subsequently at ARK 2000, their ‘gold standard’ Sanctuary near San Andreas, also in California.

Pat was internationally recognised for her extraordinary work on behalf wild animals but not only in terms of rescue. She and Ed promoted and achieved the passing of humane legislation; they worked with communities overseas, including in India, to reduce human/elephant conflict; they spoke out against the futility and cruelty of wild animal circuses; they brought together like-minded individuals to form powerful coalitions that could reach out to change hearts and minds at every level of society.

But it’s the physical experience of being with Pat and Ed and their team of animal care professionals that stays with me. The beautiful landscape of the ARK 2000 Sanctuary. The sheer size of the natural enclosures they offered their animals; the clear love and dedication they lavished on all the animals lucky enough to be in their care.

The African elephant enclosure at ARK 2000 is over 60 acres – space for elephants to roam, to be together, to be apart, to make choices about their daily lives. Compare that to the fragment of land set aside for elephants at the new elephant enclosure at the LA Zoo – just over 2 acres at a cost of $42 million!

And the elephant barns! Massive yet compassionate. I remember the first time I saw Ed gently coax an elephant into the ‘walk-in’ jacuzzi – big enough for her to immerse her whole body in warm water, taking the weight off joints that had spent too many years standing on concrete. It was a joy to watch.

The other joy was Pat herself. Passionate, determined, opinionated and so often right! Nothing was too much trouble.  I recall watching her treat an elephant’s foot (another victim of cold concrete). Gently talking, always encouraging with ‘treats’ and soothing words, she gently scrubbed away, softening the skin, treating the cracks, making the elephant as comfortable as possible.

I was lucky enough to be an informal advisor to Pat and Ed although I didn’t need to offer much advice! Pat and Ed were on top of their game, leading the way.

Pat’s spirit touched all who knew her.  She has inspired  and continues to inspire colleagues, friends and future generations. She has shown that there is a better way and that we can make amends for the suffering, neglect and cruelty we inflict on other creatures in the name of ‘entertainment’.

She has left ARK 2000 in safe hands and under the constant guidance of Ed.

She will be deeply missed but she is not gone. Her legacy is there for all to see.

Will Travers OBE

5 Responses to “In Memoriam Pat Derby, June 7, 1943 – February 15, 2013”

  1. Catherine Says:

    Hello Will,

    I’d never heard of Pat Derby, but for what you describe what a formidable lady! Her legacy lives on. We need more people like her.

  2. gill gilbey Says:

    What a wonderful human being Pat sounds,a life worth living.I hope thousands of people worldwide will follow her example and do all that they can for elephants.

  3. Brenda S. Says:

    I didn’t have the privilege of meeting Pat, but your words about her gentle talking with an elephant made me think of all the videos where you could clearly hear the love and delight she felt with them. I think in particular, of hearing her welcome Maggie to PAWS, when it seemed Maggie went giddy with happiness at being released. She gave them back the joy of living – and rejoiced in it herself.

  4. Mike Dooley Says:

    I never met Pat, but have followed her work for many years, since I first became involved with the Born Free Foundation. Watching the videos of her, Ed, and the elephants is truly inspiring. She will be sadly missed.

  5. Marius Trusca Says:

    Never met or heard of this lady but if she cared so much for animals means she was an amazing human been. Rest in peace!