Joanna Burke

The Elephants Lose Their Beloved Caregiver
For Immediate Release
Contact: Carol Buckley

Joanna with Tina

Hohenwald, Tenn--(July 22, 2006) For eight years, 36-year-old Joanna Burke was the primary caregiver for The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee’s herd of rescued Asian elephants. Joanna’s life was the elephants; a life she felt blessed to be living and one she deeply cherished. Joanna died on July 21 following a tragic accident involving Winkie, one of her elephants. (Scott Blais, Founding Director and elephant caregiver at the Sanctuary, was also injured in the accident but has been released from the hospital with minor injuries.)

Joanna was born in Massachusetts. Her formal education was in psychology which served her well in her career choice as an elephant caregiver. Joanna’s unwavering devotion to the wellbeing of all of her elephants is a testimony to the person that she was. She loved her elephants with a passion. No one could be more attentive and nurturing, and the elephants blossomed under her care. Everyone who ever met Joanna was instantly impressed by her profound devotion to her elephants and deep connection to the Sanctuary.

Life and how she lived it was of extreme importance to Joanna. She considered the impact of every step she took upon this earth which she held so precious. Joanna was instrumental in the rescue of each elephant that has found safe harbor at the Sanctuary; fiercely guarding their right to freedom and protection from harm. In eight short years Joanna grew to be loved unconditionally by all of the elephants; her girls. There was no task too menial or hour too late to tend to the needs of her cherished charges.

Joanna and BunnyJoanna made it perfectly clear in word and deed that no harm should come to any elephant no matter their action. 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 day before Joanna died she sent an e-mail to a co-worker following a radio interview about the Sanctuary and our mission. Joanna said, "After listening to your interview I found myself out taking care of the girls as the sun sank below the horizon, seeing and feeling it all as though it was the first time. Your words made me reconnect to our mission here in such a powerful way."

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. Their lives are impacted forever as Joanna gave them what most had not experienced before coming to the Sanctuary; unconditional love. Joanna’s family, friends and beloved elephants do not know how we will deal with her passing. The void is too great.

Joanna’s wish was to be buried on Sanctuary grounds; on the land that inspired her, with the elephants that she loved so dearly. Joanna’s human family will arrive on Saturday to be with her friends and elephant family. More information will be provided when burial arrangements have been made. More information regarding Winkie and the circumstances surrounding this tragic accident will be released shortly.

Joanna has left her heart print on our hearts and on our souls. All who loved her, elephant and human, are struggling with our loss.