Joanna Burke

Sanctuary Won't Put Down Elephant That Killed Handler

July 24 , 2006
The Tennessean

Winkie, the elephant that killed a handler and injured another, will not be euthanized, The Elephant Sanctuary indicated in a statement posted on its Web site.

Joanna Burke, 36, was killed by the 7,600-pound female Asian elephant Friday after having worked with her for six years.

"Joanna made it perfectly clear in word and deed that no harm should come to any elephant no matter their action," the statement posted Saturday said.

"She shared the Sanctuary's philosophy that Winkie will not be punished for her actions but managed in a way that keeps another innocent caregiver out of harm's way."

The Elephant Sanctuary did not say what changes in handling the elephant there might be.

A news conference is scheduled for noon today to address the incident, sanctuary Development Director Kate Elliott said.

The Web statement quoted an e-mail sent by Burke the day before she died to a co-worker, who had discussed the sanctuary and its mission in a radio interview. "I found myself out taking care of the girls (as she called the elephants) as the sun sank below the horizon, seeing and feeling it all as though it was the first time, … " Burke said. "Your words made me reconnect to our mission here in such a powerful way."

According to the statement, burial arrangements have not been completed but it was Burke's wish to be buried on the grounds of the sanctuary, in Hohenwald in Lewis County.

Burke's family has arrived from out of state to oversee her remains, Elliott said. "The loss is too great to absorb at this moment; all who knew and loved Joanna are grieving. The elephants sense her absence in a profound way," the Sanctuary's statement continued.

"Joanna's family, friends and beloved elephants do not know how we will deal with her passing. The void is too great."

Burke was the primary caregiver at The Elephant Sanctuary, where she had worked for eight years.

Elephants can suffer from a condition that is effectually similar to post-traumatic stress disorder in humans. Most elephants taken from the wild — as Winkie was — suffer from this condition, which is the most common cause of elephant rampages, according to a report in New Scientist magazine earlier this year.

"Given a certain situation, any kind of animal can suffer from some kind of disorder, depending on its management," said Jim Bartoo, spokesman for the Nashville Zoo.