Winkie was born in Myanmar (formerly Burma) in 1966. At approximately one year of age, she was captured and sold into the exotic animal trade, which brought her to the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, WI. Winkie responded to a traditional dominance based, free-contact system by showing aggression towards the humans around her. Over the course of her 30-year stay at the zoo, Winkie acquired a reputation as a “dangerous” elephant.
On September 12, 2000, Winkie arrived at The Sanctuary as its 7th resident. Sissy, having arrived just a few months prior, quickly became her closest companion. Both elephants came to The Sanctuary with a reputation of being anti-social and unable to get along well with other elephants, but they seemed to be a perfect fit for one another. In the years following her arrival, Winkie also became more social with the rest of the Asia herd, venturing farther and farther into the habitat with Sissy.
In 2006, Winkie was involved in an incident at The Sanctuary that resulted in the death of a caregiver. While it isn’t known what triggered the incident, the tragedy made clear the unpredictability and complex nature of captive elephants. The Sanctuary converted to Protected Contact (PC) management. This means that there is always a safety barrier between human and elephant, providing better protection for both when interaction is necessary.
Winkie was often described as a “morning” elephant; caregivers observed that she was very easily excited. She often made a unique "Whoo" vocalization and blew air through her trunk to make a poof, poof, poof sound. She was fond of mangoes, placing the entire fruit in her mouth and spitting out the pit when done. If given an orange as a treat or reward, Winkie would peel it with her trunk and only eat the fleshy inside.
Winkie was a very dark-colored elephant with a head full of hair. She and Sissy spent most of their time walking the “2nd Pipeline” area or at “Dr. Scott’s Pond.” They were often observed swimming there or at the pond near the Asia Barn—and were rarely seen apart.
Winkie was humanely euthanized and passed peacefully on May 11, 2017 surrounded by those who cared for and loved her.
If you wish to leave a tribute for Winkie, you may do so on her Tribute page.