As the host of The Price is Right for 35 years, Bob Barker spent the morning in many people's living rooms. He used his position to not only bring joy to millions but to educate the public about animal overpopulation. Starting in 1979, and until his last episode in 2007, Barker ended every show with the phrase, “Help control the pet population—have your pets spayed and neutered.”
When Barker passed away on Saturday, August 26, 2023, at age 99, the animal world lost one of its most important advocates. Because in addition to his warning at the end of The Price is Right, he used his platform and influence to help animals. His advocacy started early in his career when he stepped down as the host of the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants because the organizers would not ban fur coats from the competition.
Barker donated millions to animal rights groups, including $25 million to a foundation that helps spay and neuter pets, $5 million to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society so they could purchase a boat to assist in their anti-whaling efforts, and $2.5 million to help PETA renovate their West Coast Headquarters.
But one of the groups Barker was most actively involved with was the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). Founded in 1984, the organization rescues and provides sanctuary for exotic and performing animals. Barker was a longtime supporter of PAWS, and the organization's founder, Ed Stewart, fondly recalls their time together in a message released after his death.
“I am fortunate to have fought for animal rights alongside Bob for more than 35 years. We traveled to Alaska; North Carolina; Washington, D.C.; Canada and other places to ensure that animals would be protected. Bob broke down barriers when organizations like ours couldn’t get a foot in the door, during an era when animal exploitation went unquestioned.”
Perhaps one of Barker's most extraordinary acts with PAWS was organizing a military airlift to get a lonely African elephant out of the Alaska Zoo and into a warmer climate. Maggie was an African elephant who had been captured as a calf and was acquired by the zoo in 1983. She spent 24 years at the Alaska Zoo and the last decade of that alone as the zoo's other elephant had passed away.
After a public outcry in 2007, the zoo's board of directors voted to send her to California, where she would be in the warmer climate meant for her. PAWS has an enormous elephant sanctuary and was willing to take her in. The only problem was transportation. No commercial airline was able to move her, so the U.S. military loaned one of the largest cargo jets available—a C-17 Globemaster III—and she was able to make the trip.
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Of course, using a military aircraft is no small expense, and that's where Barker stepped in. He not only paid the bill for the military flight but also sponsored Maggie's first few years of care at the sanctuary. Thanks to him, she was able to live with other elephants for the last 13 years of her life and get the companionship she was craving.
This wasn't the only elephant rescue Barker organized. In 2011, he convinced the Toronto Zoo to send their three elephants to PAWS when the zoo could no longer care for them. Not only that, he also paid for their flights to the sanctuary to the tune of nearly $1 million. While one of the elephants had to be euthanized several years later after a long illness, the other two—Thika and Toka—continue to thrive at the sanctuary.
In his annual Christmas cards to Barker, Stewart addressed the beloved TV host as “The Most Important Animal Rights Activist of All Time.” He certainly wasn't wrong. Thanks to Barker's tireless work, many animals were able to live happy, fulfilling lives, and this legacy will certainly continue on thanks to organizations, like PAWS, that Barker supported.
Bob Barker was a dedicated animal activist who used his platform and influence to help animals in need.
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In 2007, Barker paid for a military cargo jet to transfer an elephant from the Alaska Zoo to a sanctuary in California.
Watch the beloved TV host discuss his animal activism and his desire to help elephants in need.
h/t: [New York Times]