With great sadness, The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee announces the passing of African elephant Jana at the age of 43. Jana was The Sanctuary’s 31st resident.
Jana arrived at The Sanctuary on May 1, 2023. Zoo Knoxville medical records indicated that in 2010, Jana suffered an injury to her right forelimb during an altercation with another elephant. Subsequent radiographs confirmed a suspected avulsion fracture in her elbow and showed noticeable muscle atrophy in the lateral muscles of her right forelimb. For the past 12 years, Jana exhibited an abnormal gait, along with reported stiffness and discomfort. Additionally, radiographs taken this year showed advanced degenerative joint disease with partial carpal joint collapse.
In recent weeks, Jana's declining health and reduced mobility led to multiple falls, severely impacting her quality of life. Due to the irreversible progression of these health issues, her inability to stand on her own, and the escalating pain she experienced, the difficult decision was made, and Jana was humanely euthanized on October 20, 2023.
Jana’s early years were spent at the Louisville Zoo in Louisville, Kentucky. In 1998, she moved to Zoo Knoxville in Knoxville, Tennessee, to be part of their herd that included Tonka (African male) and Edie (African female). In 2022, Zoo Knoxville decided to transfer Jana, Edie, and Tonka as part of their commitment to lifetime care and to ensure their health and social needs would be met through the later stages of their lives.
In preparation for Jana’s move, Zoo Knoxville and The Sanctuary’s Care and Veterinary Teams worked closely together to ensure the seamless continuation of Jana’s care. Both teams engaged in ongoing discussions regarding her health, diagnostic results, and healthcare plans. These collaborative efforts extended from her time at the zoo to her transition to The Sanctuary. Notably, throughout the past week of her acute health decline, the veterinary teams maintained constant communication, ensuring a consistent provision of care for both her long-standing chronic conditions and her recent acute medical issues.
Many modifications at The Sanctuary were implemented upon her arrival to enhance Jana's habitat and barn for her comfort and well-being. These changes included modifying the habitat with sand piles for resting and providing standing mats during treatments and footwork. Adjustable foot presentation bars were added for her convenience, and treatments were conducted near supportive structures that she could lean on. To facilitate her movement, Staff ensured that the access points to her habitat had gentle topography. In her final days, a specialized "elephant mattress," was placed in her stall for extra comfort. Medical care included pain medications, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication, and additional oral supplements.
On Monday, October 16, Jana experienced a fall and was unable to get up. Jana received immediate care and assistance to stand from The Sanctuary's emergency response team. Over the following days, she displayed significant weakness and a lack of interest in essential life-sustaining activities. Despite ongoing efforts, multiple liftings, and treatments, her condition worsened. On Friday, October 20, Jana’s health rapidly declined. After careful consideration and quality-of-life assessment, The Sanctuary, in consultation with Zoo Knoxville and other professionals, made the difficult decision to humanely euthanize. Jana passed away peacefully at 2:51 AM, surrounded by her Caregivers.
“Jana was intelligent, spirited, and confident and we feel very fortunate to have the privilege of knowing her during her years at Zoo Knoxville. She spent her last months just as we hoped, exploring the hills and forests in Hohenwald, swimming in the water holes, and making a new friend with Nosey. While we are heartbroken at her loss, we are comforted that she left this world surrounded by people who loved and cared for her as we did,” said Zoo Knoxville President and CEO Lisa New.
As the Facilities Team prepared the burial site, two pathologists from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine and two veterinarians from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine joined Staff to perform the required necropsy. Complete findings will not be available for several weeks.
During her time at The Sanctuary, Jana explored her habitat space and interacted with herd mate, Nosey. Jana and Nosey often seized the opportunity to share direct space with one another, and on a recent beautiful fall day, they spent time alternating between independent exploration and moments of grazing together. After a day of foraging, Jana decided to journey back, returning to rest beside the barn. Nosey chose to follow along, joining her companion. The two spent over an hour peacefully napping and dusting side by side. Sarah Fischel, Lead Caregiver at Asia Barn, shared her sentiments, saying, “Watching Jana’s relationship with Nosey grow from one of uncertainty to acceptance and even a budding friendship, where they sought out interactions with each other, was truly rewarding. We are honored to have known, cared for, and loved Jana.”
Nosey was observed being “supportive” toward Jana during her final days, standing quietly by her side and offering gentle touches. When Jana passed away, Nosey remained close and was provided access to Jana until her burial.
“We are devastated by the loss of Jana,” says Janice Zeitlin, The Sanctuary’s CEO. “At The Sanctuary, we are committed to providing individualized care for aging elephants — their comfort and well-being is always of primary importance. End of life care comes with challenges, loss, and heart break. We extend our heartfelt gratitude to Sanctuary Staff, Zoo Knoxville, and all those who have tirelessly dedicated themselves to providing Jana compassion and care.”