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By: The Elephant Sanctuary

Winkie Health Update: April 2017

UPDATE 5/5/17: 

Winkie continues to be monitored closely, with some days being better than others. She has been showing a slight improvement in appetite this week, and Caregivers report that she is especially enjoying onions. 

Original Post: 4/27/17

As reported in March (see EleNote), Asian elephant Winkie, age 51, began to shown signs of several chronic, progressive health conditions common to aging, captive elephants, including kidney disease, anemia, osteoarthritis, foot abscesses and known exposure to tuberculosis.

Veterinary and Husbandry teams constantly modify Winkie’s individualized care plan to address the changes to her health. The Sanctuary’s Veterinary Team consulted with a well-respected veterinary nutritionist to assist in developing a diet tailor-made to best suit her needs and palate. Winkie responded with increased appetite and moderate weight gain. Care staff reported that while her activity slowed somewhat, she continued to explore her habitat and participate in daily activities.

Recently, during routine dental imaging, a malocclusion involving a small misaligned section of lower molar was found, revealing a possible contributing factor to Winkie’s health issues. Veterinary and Husbandry teams continued to monitor Winkie closely with extensive diagnostics including further blood work, radiographs and other tests.

This past week, Winkie’s Caregivers reported her loss of interest in food and water and further decrease in activity. Blood and urine tests have confirmed progressive kidney disease.  Medications have been added to stimulate her appetite and maintain her overall comfort. Care staff have increased oral fluid therapy with water and electrolyte enhanced water and offers of bananas and other favorite foods.

By regulatory standards, all captive elephants must be monitored for the presence of active TB by an annual trunk-wash test. In addition to these minimum standards, The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, in collaboration with state regulatory agencies, also performs additional monitoring at increased frequency than current recommendations. In 2014, Sissy and Winkie were both shown to be TB-reactive on a serological blood test; meaning, at some point in their lives, they were exposed to Mycobacterium tuberculosis. They both received a preventative antibiotic regimen. 

In February, Winkie’s routine serology screening showed an increased reactivity indicating a potential change in disease status. Protocols were immediately implemented in order to protect other elephants as well as human Caregivers. Active Tuberculosis infection in Winkie was confirmed this week via a positive trunk wash culture submitted to an outside laboratory.

At this time, Veterinary and Husbandry teams are continuing to closely monitor Winkie’s condition. We continue to adjust her care to fight infection, manage pain and, most importantly, maintain her overall comfort. Winkie and her companion Sissy are together with access to over 10 acres of natural habitat. They are separated from Shirley and Tarra at this time.

Winkie was born in Myanmar in 1966. When she was still a calf, she was captured and sold into the exotic animal trade, which brought her to the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, WI. In September 2000, Winkie arrived at The Sanctuary as its 7th resident.

A life in captivity takes a physical and emotional toll on these highly intelligent, social giants.

Sanctuary staff will continue to keep all of Winkie’s many supporters updated on her health and well-being.

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