Winkie Celebrates 12 Years in Sanctuary
Animal Stories from

From The Elephant Sanctuary September 2012

The Sanctuary wishes to send a heart-felt "Thank You" to everyone involved who loves and worked to bring Winkie to Tennessee back in September of 2000. The following is an excerpt from a “love letter” of sorts, written by Lisa Kane – Winkie’s friend and fierce advocate, without whom Winkie might never have found Sanctuary:

A six-month-old infant Asian elephant arrived at Henry Vilas Zoo in 1965. She was so small that two men were able to lift her onto a table, allowing the zoo vet to get a closer look. The zoo named the infant Winkie. She lived in Madison for thirty-five years—through blizzards, ice storms, and sweltering summer heat. In 1982 she was joined by an African elephant calf named Penny. They were chained in place for 16 hours out of every day. Winkie was not happy… Over the years, she attacked her keepers. After much wrangling, Winkie's big day came in September 2000 when she stepped into the Sanctuary's trailer and headed south. She arrived with a hard shell and a small heart. Over these five years in the lush hills of Tennessee she has found the courage to shed her carapace and allow her heart to grow. She loves her human caregivers and has found a true and tender friend in Sissy.

So, Happy Valentine's Day, Winkie, from one who loves every bit of you--the frightened warrior who battled every way she knew to escape Madison, the shy creature who reached out to a stranger like me, the stubborn orphan who insisted on keeping her hope alive.

Love from Lisa Kane, February 2006

Winkie's background

elephant Winkie sanctuary

Born: 1966 Birthplace: Burma Birth status: wild born Captured from the wild: 1966 Life before the Sanctuary: The Henry Vilas Zoo Reason for coming to the Sanctuary: US Department of Agriculture recommended she be moved Moved to The Elephant Sanctuary ~ September 12, 2000 Height: 8'3" Favorite Food: Potatoes

Once upon a time there was a Baby Elephant....

Winkie the Asian Elephant, Seventh Resident of the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee

Winkie was born in Burma in 1966. As a young calf she migrated with her family across the wilds of Southeast Asia.

At approximately one year of age, she was captured and sold into the exotic animal trade, which brought her to the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin. She has shared her small zoo space since infancy with others, most recently an African elephant named Penny.

During her time at the zoo, Winkie was managed free-contact-dominance, which is a standard form of elephant management. Winkie's response to being dominated was to lash out at new keepers being trained to dominate her. She hurt several would-be elephant keepers and visitors in her thirty-year stay at the zoo, earning a reputation as a dangerous elephant.

As a result of an antiquated elephant exhibit, lack of funds to renovate the exhibit in the immediate future, and a request by USDA to improve the exhibit or relocate the elephants, the Henry Vilas Zoo decided it would be in the best interest of their elephants and staff to place Winkie in another institution.

After thoroughly investigating the options, the difficult decision was made. Penny and Winkie were separated. Penny, being young and reproductively viable was sent to a facility where she would be bred. Winkie was allowed to retire to the Elephant Sanctuary where she would not be bred.

At 12 noon, September 12, 2000, Winkie arrived at The Elephant Sanctuary. She was immediately comfortable with the other elephants, sharing food and affection with each and every one. It is reasonable to believe that Winkie will mourn the loss of her friend Penny, but now she has six new sisters to share her retirement years and a great new world to explore.  

Return to: Animal Stories