In Memory of Joanna Burke

Jenny, Shirley, & Tarra


On July 21, we honor Joanna, Tina, all the elephants we have loved and cared about, and all the spirits that surround the Sanctuary.

This date will forever hold special meaning for us.

Add Your Tribute to Joanna

State Resolution Honoring Joanna Burke

April 21, 2007:
Nine months have passed and still we are not fully able to grasp the reality of Joanna’s passing. It is not denial that we are experiencing; we all fully understand that Joanna is no longer alive, but her spirit is so strong; it is as if only her physical form has left this planet. In the book, How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies, the author states that when a person you love dies you don’t lose that person from your life, you simply have to learn how to relate to them in a different way. Joanna’s spiritual presence is felt and touches us deeply, creating the opportunity for each of us to develop a new relationship with her.
Namaste, Joanna

Make a Donation in Joanna's Memory
Joanna's parents asked that all donations for Joanna be sent to The Elephant Sanctuary.


Joanna the Caregiver

Joanna started as an intern at the Sanctuary in August 1998. One day during her internship, Joanna woke up from a dream. She was reminded of a trip she'd taken to the Nashville Zoo about three years prior, long before she ever thought of a career serving animals. The dream reminded her of watching an elephant being bathed at the zoo and how awe-inspiring the elephant was to watch. Something about the dream prompted her to engage in a midnight hunt through the photos she had taken while visiting the zoo. To her surprise, the photograph she was searching for was of Scott and Carol bathing Tarra at the Nashville Zoo—their last stop before creating the Elephant Sanctuary.

Joanna is a native New Englander who originally came to the South to teach in the Appalachian Mountains. She later moved to Nashville to begin a graduate program in organizational psychology. Near the end of the program, she realized she felt no passion for the subject—her heart was with animals. So she left school and started to investigate ways to gain experience in the field. Joanna applied for an internship at the Sanctuary. She was accepted and rewarded with an opportunity to do something she wanted at a place that needed a person like her to do it.

When asked what a lead caregiver does, Joanna's answer was, "Anything at a moment’s notice and then some." Her responsibilities included the daily care of elephants and supervision of fellow caregivers and volunteers. During her time at the Sanctuary Joanna not only cared for elephants on a daily basis, she also coordinated the intern program that brought her to the Sanctuary in the first place.

For Joanna, what had become the most rewarding aspect of being at the Sanctuary was observing the elephants building relationships with one another, healing and becoming whole. Being at the Sanctuary to observe that process and helping to create an environment that supports it were by far the best parts of the job. She said on many occasions, "Working in a place where the philosophy is so progressive, where things are always growing and never stagnant has been great for me in my own growth as a person and a caregiver."

Tarra and Joanne
Joanna adored Tarra
Joanna, Tarra, & Bella
Tarra gets a hug while Bella watches


Joanne knew that Tina loved to be pampered
Tina and Joanna


Tina gets special treatment
Joanna made Tina's life so much better


Jenny, Shirley, & Tarra
Jenny, Shirley, Joanna, and Tarra

Winkie follows Joanne and the 4-wheeler
Joanna on the 4-wheeler with Winkie following