Performing Animal Wildlife Sanctuary (PAWS)

North America

Since 1984, The Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) has been at the forefront of efforts to rescue and provide appropriate, humane sanctuary for animals who have been the victims of the exotic and performing animal trades. PAWS investigates reports of abused performing and exotic animals, documents cruelty, and assists in investigations and prosecutions by regulatory agencies to alleviate the suffering of captive wildlife. PAWS provides a sanctuary where rescued animals can live in peace and contentment with appropriate housing, food, and veterinary care. 

Challenges to Conservation

Wildlife in Captivity

There are an estimated 1,200 exotic animal facilities in the united states, few of which are accredited, and which frequently have little knowledge of animals nutritional or behavioral needs. Animals used in travelling shows often spend their lives in small, confined spaced with minimal social interaction with other members of their species and little opportunity to exhibit natural behaviors. Free contact training requires the handlers to physically dominate the animals - often using tools like bullhooks - which can be dangerous to both humans and animals. Surplus animals from irresponsible breeding facilities may end up in canned hunting farms or as someone’s pet. The surplus animal trade is a lucrative business - billions of dollars - with links to drug trafficking and other illegal practices.

Conservation Approaches

The Sanctuaries

Three sanctuaries in Northern California house 100 exotic animals, including eight elephants and 16 tigers, as well as bears, big cats, primates and other species. For these animals, confiscated by the USDA and CDFW or retired from AZA-accredited zoos, PAWS provides a permanent home. With thousands of acres of land and over 30 trained staff members providing 24/7 care, PAWS individually designs enclosures to meet any psychological or physical conditions, ensuring the wildlife at their sanctuary have the ability to behave as naturally as possible.


Many California laws that protect captive wildlife would not be on the books without PAWS’ involvement. In 1985 PAWS was heavily involved in passing a law that restricts the breeding and ownership of wild animals. They were early adopters and ardent supporters of protected contact and positive reinforcement. Currently they are focused on passing California legislation SB 716, banning abusive elephant discipline and training techniques, as well as SB 96, prohibiting the sale of ivory and rhinoceros horn.


PAWS does extensive work in educating the community on humane care and treatment of captive wildlife. They work closely with public officials and the entertainment industry to ensure they are informed of and implementing the best methods of wildlife management. At ARK 2000, they host ‘Seeing the Elephant’ weekends, which allow visitors to learn about the elephants and they care that they require, and include demonstrations on positive reinforcement training. They also collaborate with UC Davis on studies regarding animal welfare, behavior, biological, and animal science studies.

Oakland Zoo Takes Action...

Advocacy support

Oakland Zoo’s staff and volunteers have been working diligently to help pass both the bullhook and ivory bans, traveling to city and state hearings. The Zoo is a key sponsor, alongside PAWS, of both AB 96 and SB 716.


Oakland Zoo provides conservation grants for PAWS and their efforts.

Outreach and Education

Oakland Zoo connects to our public through docent tours and stations and a variety of outreach and education programs with messages about the exotic pet trade and animal welfare. We are also a protected contact, positive reinforcement facility, and work to inform our public about these practices and how to support responsible captive animal management.


PAWS joins Oakland Zoo at annual events including Earth Day and Celebrating Elephants, and was the 2015 ZooCamp conservation partner.

...And So Can You!