Louisville Zoo will move last two remaining elephants to sanctuary next year: “The best decision for them”

Zoos have a responsibility to do what’s best for their animals, even if it means making a difficult decision.

Now, the Louisville Zoo is getting ready to say goodbye to two of its beloved, longtime elephants, who will be moved to a sanctuary.

The zoo, located in Kentucky, made the announcement yesterday that their two remaining elephants — a 37-year-old African elephant named Mikki and a 53-year-old Asian elephant named Punch — would be relocated to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.

In a video, zoo director Dan Maloney said that they were at the “crossroads of tradition and reality.” While elephants have been a beloved part of the zoo for decades, they explained that moving them would be in their best interest.

The zoo’s website explains that after the death of Mikki’s calf Fitz last year, there are now only two elephants, below the AZA standard of three in an exhibit. Elephants are highly intelligent and social animals who need to be around others of their own kind.

On top of that, Mikki and Punch are both aging: Punch is “considered geriatric,” while Mikki is “gracefully entering her senior years.” The zoo had to take preemptive action to ensure that when one of them dies, the other will still have companionship.

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Punch. (Louisville Zoo/Facebook)

The pair will move to the Elephant Sanctuary in 2025. The sanctuary is the largest natural-habitat elephant refuge in the country, and they will have over 3,000 acres to roam — and just as importantly, plenty of other elephants to socialize with.

The move will surely come as bittersweet news for staff and longtime visitors. Both elephants have been longtime fixtures of the zoo: Punch arrived in Louisville in 1973, and Mikki arrived in 1987. While they will be missed, moving to a sanctuary is in the animals’ best interest.

“I love elephants dearly and I will miss Punch and Mikki terribly, but I know this is the best decision for them,” Dan Maloney said.

The zoo said they would spend the next year preparing the elephants for their big move, using training exercises to condition them to the crates they will be transported in.

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Mikki. (Louisville Zoo/Facebook)

They also wrote that they would continue to support elephant conservation, and provide viewers with live camera feeds of Punch and Mikki in their new habitat.

The elephants’ transfer will also allow some beneficial changes at the zoo: staff will be able to move their southern white rhinos Sindi and Letterman into a larger area, and use the rhinos’ vacated space to potentially welcome okapi, a species that would be new to the Louisville Zoo.

Louisville Zoo is making the right decision here — thank you for prioritizing the wellbeing of these beautiful senior elephants. We hope they will enjoy their new home at the sanctuary next year ❤️

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