Louisville Zoo Plans to Retire Its 2 Remaining Elephants to a Sanctuary for 'Aging' Animals

Elephants Mikki and Punch are set to move to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee in 2025

<p>Louisville Zoo/YouTube</p> An elephant at the Louisville Zoo

Louisville Zoo/YouTube

An elephant at the Louisville Zoo

It's the end of an era for the Louisville Zoo.

On Thursday, the Kentucky establishment announced on Facebook that its two remaining elephants, African elephant Mikki, 37, and Asian elephant Punch, 53, will retire soon.

"Today, the Louisville Zoo announced it is initiating preparations to relocate African elephant Mikki and Asian elephant Punch to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), The Elephant Sanctuary is the nation's largest natural habitat elephant refuge of over 3,000 acres," the zoo wrote on social media alongside a video of zoo director Dan Maloney sharing more details.

The Louisville Zoo added that the animals are slated to move to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, located in Hohenwald, in spring 2025, so fans of the elephants have plenty of time to wish them well.

"This timeframe provides us time to condition the elephants so we can transport them safely and comfortably," a message on the zoo's website read.

According to the Louisville Zoo's Facebook post, The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee "was developed specifically to care for aging elephants and provide them with the companionship of a large herd. This allows Punch and Mikki to continue to receive the highest standard of care, consistent with the level they are accustomed to in Louisville."

In the video from the post, Maloney said more about the decision to retire the elephants: "We've had elephants here for most of our history, but those elephants are getting older, and now we have to be concerned about their care in their golden years."

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The zoo's website added that the facility chose to move the elephants to a sanctuary after the death of Mikki's calf, Fitz.

"With the passing of Mikki's calf Fitz in 2023, the Zoo fell below the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) standard of three elephants for an exhibit. Ultimately, the ongoing welfare of Punch and Mikki is our highest priority. We have reached the point where it is imperative that we secure an optimal location where Mikki and Punch may retire together, and guarantee companionship when one inevitably passes before the other," the Louisville Zoo wrote.

Maloney confirmed fans could keep in touch with the elephants via live camera feeds from the Tennessee sanctuary once the animals make the move.

"Making the decision to move Punch and Mikki has been hard for all of us, it's okay to feel some sadness about their departure, but it's also okay to be joyful about where they're going to go," Maloney said.

<p>Joe Hendrickson / Alamy</p> A photo of the Louisville Zoo.

Joe Hendrickson / Alamy

A photo of the Louisville Zoo.

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Per the sanctuary's site, there are currently 12 elephant residents at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, with space to welcome more. Since 1995, the establishment has "provided home and care to 33 elephants," the website added.

Mikki and Punch will be transported to the sanctuary in large crates. To ensure the elephants are comfortable in the containers, the zoo has added a crate to the elephant habitat to incorporate it into training exercises ahead of the move.

"Each animal will be driven separately and accompanied by a keeper who will help them acclimate to their new habitat," the zoo added on its website.

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The zoo plans to move southern white rhinos Sindi and Letterman into the elephants' old habitat once it is vacated so the rhinos have a larger space.

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