The zoo said the aging elephants will join a larger group to keep the three company as they enter the late stages of their lives.
KNOXVILLE, Tennessee — Knoxville Zoo made a major announcement Monday that it would move its African elephants to a sanctuary in Middle Tennessee.
The zoo said the three elephants — Tonka, Jana and Edie — will move to Tennessee’s The Elephant Sanctuary, which is located in Hohenwald.
The move will not be immediate. The zoo said the timeline will depend on the elephants themselves, and says their keepers are working to train the three to enter and stand voluntarily in a positive-reinforcement travel crate. Once they are comfortable with the routine, Jana and Edie will be the first to move, followed by Tonka later in 2023.
The zoo said it will keep people informed of their departure so that there is time to say goodbye.
“The move will allow them to join a larger group of elephants, ensuring companionship for the three aging elephants as they enter the late stages of their lives,” the zoo said. “Elephants have complex social needs and thrive with companionship. All three of Zoo Knoxville’s elephants are seniors by elephant standards. Realizing that Knoxville’s herd will suffer inevitable losses in the near future, Zoo Knoxville began exploring options to ensure that their social needs would be met for the rest of their lives.”
The zoo said it had made the decision to transfer the three into the care of the sanctuary after considering what would be best for their well-being. It said the Louisville Zoo, which Jana lent to Zoo Knoxville’s care in 1998, supported the decision.
“In addition to the high standard of care guaranteed in an AZA accredited facility, continuity of veterinary care in close coordination with UT College of Veterinary Medicine, the range of companionship they can provide and the short amount of travel required for the move were decisive factors,” the zoo said.
The zoo said it will soon launch a new master plan with a vision for the future of elephants in Knoxville, with community support.
“Tonka, Jana and Edie are loved and cherished, and we will always put their well-being and happiness first,” said Lisa New, president and CEO of Zoo Knoxville. “Part of caring for any animal entrusted to us is having a life plan from birth to the end of life. We are at the stage of that plan where we need to ensure that our elephants are in an environment that provides them with the social interactions they need as their old companions toward the end of their lives. It’s a decision we didn’t take lightly, but we know it’s the right one in the end.”
In 2011, Edie the elephant killed one of her zookeepers after pushing the woman against a steel beam. At the time, TOSHA fined the zoo for not taking the necessary steps to provide a safe workplace. TOSHA researchers said they believe previous incidents involving Edie should have prompted the zoo to manage her differently in order to protect her keepers. The zoo disagreed, saying it was taking precautions to protect its employees.