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By: The Elephant Sanctuary

Winkie's 50th Birthday and 16th Year at The Sanctuary

Today we celebrate the 16th anniversary of Winkie’s arrival at The Sanctuary, as well as her 50th birthday!

Winkie was born in Myanmar (formerly Burma) in 1966. She was captured as a calf and sold into the exotic animal trade, which led her to the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, WI, where she lived for more than 30 years.

On September 12, 2000, Winkie became the 7th elephant resident at The Elephant Sanctuary—a 2,700-acre natural habitat preserve.

Arriving a few short months after Asian elephant Sissy, the two became close companions—although both were said to have a reputation of being unable to get along well with other elephants. In her 16 years at The Sanctuary, Winkie has continued to develop social bonds with the rest of the Asia herd, venturing farther and farther into the habitat with Sissy. Together, Winkie and Sissy, make full use of the ponds and the wooded areas of their expansive habitat.

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, wherein Caregiver safety is achieved by elephant and Caregiver positioning relative to each other and to a barrier, which typically separates human and animal spaces.

Today, Winkie and Sissy spend most of their time together walking the “2nd Pipeline” or at “Dr. Scott’s Pond.” This summer, Tarra has chosen to join Winkie and Sissy on many of their adventures to the Asia Habitat’s new Warming Hut, where Winkie has been stashing rocks and produce peels. If given an orange as a treat or reward, Winkie will peel it with her trunk before eating the fruit.

Caregivers report that with the warm weather, Winkie has been accepting more scrub brush baths. She has also been observed picking up fist-sized rocks and tossing them on her back to shoo away flies—walking around with a small collection of rocks on her back at any given time.

Winkie often makes a unique "Whoo" vocalization and blows air through her trunk to make a “Poof, poof, poof” sound. She is most easily recognized by her dark color and head full of hair.


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