Follow Our Elephant’s Journey


The Crossroads of Tradition and Reality

For every resident animal, we create a care plan for all stages of their life. Punch, at 53, is considered geriatric and Mikki, at 37, is gracefully entering her senior years. With the passing of Mikki’s calf Fitz, in 2023, the Zoo fell below the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) standard of three elephants for an exhibit. Ultimately, the ongoing welfare of Punch and Mikki is our highest priority. We have reached the point where it is imperative that we secure an optimal location where Mikki and Punch may retire together, and guarantee companionship when one inevitably passes before the other.

The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, just south of Nashville, is the nation’s largest natural-habitat refuge developed specifically for elephants. Mikki and Punch will still live together, but will have over 3,000 acres to roam, a continued high standard of care, and an opportunity to form new social connections with other elephants.

We’re planning to move Punch and Mikki to The Sanctuary in spring of 2025, however there will be a lot of opportunities to celebrate their impact on our Zoo between now and then. This timeframe provides us time to condition the elephants so we can transport them safely and comfortably.

Photo of Dan Maloney and the Elephant transfer crate

Director Dan Maloney and the Elephant Crate

Zoo guests will see a large crate in the elephant habitat, which we’ll incorporate into training exercises to help prepare them for the move. The crate is designed specifically for transporting elephants. Each animal will be driven separately and accompanied by a keeper who will help them acclimate to their new habitat.

The Zoo will continue to support elephant conservation and education, and guests can enjoy seeing Mikki, Punch, and their new friends with live camera feeds from the Tennessee sanctuary.

While we’re sad to see Punch and Mikki go, the move gives us an opportunity to move Sindi and Letterman, our southern white rhinos, into a larger area. This would then open the rhino’s vacated space to potentially welcome okapi, also known as forest giraffes — a unique species that would be new to the Louisville Zoo.

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photo - Mikki, full face, with ears fanned out, with trunk saluting high in the air, with look of here I am zoo visitorsMikki

Born: 1985 (Estimated)
Louisville Zoo Arrival:  July 28, 1987
Mikki is an African elephant that arrived at the Louisville Zoo when she was about 2 years old. She spends her time foraging in the exhibit and especially enjoys pulling the bark and leaves off of trees. Guests have even witnessed her bracing her front legs on top of Punch to grab the highest tree limbs! She also spends time digging in the clay pile in her habitat.

Elephants at the Louisville Zoo


Born:  1970 (Estimated)
Louisville Zoo Arrival:  1973
Punch arrived at the Louisville Zoo when she was about 3 years old.  Punch, though considered a geriatric elephant, is still very active and enjoys playing with her boomer ball. She will often choose to kick it with her back leg and will even chase it into the elephant pool during hot summer months.

Relocating elephants Punch and Mikki to the Elephant Sanctuary is in the best interest of their health and wellbeing as aging elephants.

  • The Elephant Sanctuary, accredited by the AZA, is the nation’s largest natural-habitat refuge developed specifically to provide for elephants as they age with the companionship of a herd and individualized care.
  • Exploring relocation opportunities as Punch and Mikki enter later stages in their lives has always been part of our care plan and it is important to take advantage of this opportunity in a time when The Elephant Sanctuary is accepting animals.
  • At 53 years of age, Punch is considered a geriatric elephant, and Mikki is in her later stages of life at 37.
  • The Elephant Sanctuary will provide the highest standard of care that Punch are Mikki are accustomed to at the Louisville Zoo.

This care plan and relocation to The Elephant Sanctuary ensures the social needs of Punch and Mikki will be met for the rest of their lives.

  • Female elephants are highly gregarious,  and their social bonds and associations strengthen with time.
  • Ensuring that Punch and Mikki remain together and get the chance to live with more elephants as they enter the later stages of their lives is a top priority.
  • The Elephant Sanctuary will offer Mikki and Punch the companionship of a herd.
  • Knowledge of elephants continues to expand and the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) standards for their care have evolved to reflect that.

The Louisville Zoo is taking a calculated approach to relocating our elephants, while taking a strategic look at the future of
their current space.

  • Punch and Mikki will make the move to The Elephant Sanctuary in 2025.
  • The Elephant Sanctuary and Louisville Zoo animal care teams will spend almost a year acclimating Punch and Mikki to the elephant transportation crates.
  • The current elephant exhibit will be repurposed into a larger habitat for our rhinos, and will provide us the opportunity to welcome new animal species.
  • Elephant conservation connections will continue through the dedication of Zoo  conservation funding, derived from the guest admission fees and donations to help protect and preserve wild elephants.
  • The capacity to hold a bull group and a multi-generational breeding herd would be required for any future Louisville Zoo elephant exhibits.