Why are you relocating the elephants to The Elephant Sanctuary?
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 and Aquariums (AZA) standard of three elephants for an exhibit. Our herd is also facing inevitable losses. We have reached the point where it is imperative that we secure a place for Mikki and Punch where the bonded duo are both able to retire together and that their complex social needs are met through the end of their lives.

Why are you moving the elephants now after such a long time?
Our knowledge of elephant social structure has greatly expanded over the years and AZA standards for their care have evolved. The passing of Fitz and the mature age of both Mikki and Punch weighed in our decision to move them to an area where they can live out the remainder of their lives comfortably with the necessary companionship for aging, female elephants.

Why did you update the exhibit just a few years ago?
The Harry Frazier Family Elephant Encounter was enhanced in 2016 to enlarge the elephants’ outside space in accordance with AZA-management guidelines.

Is this because Fitz passed away?
Losing young Fitz to the insidious elephant herpes virus brings the Louisville Zoo under the minimum herd size of three as required by the AZA for an exhibit. However, this is only one contributing factor in the decision to relocate the elephants. Ultimately, the ongoing welfare of Punch and Mikki is our highest priority. For every resident animal, we create a care plan for all stages of their life. We have reached the point where it is imperative that we secure an optimal setting where Mikki and Punch may retire together, and can guarantee companionship when one inevitably passes before the other.

Why don’t you create a new elephant exhibit instead of Kentucky Trails?
Capital costs for a modern elephant exhibit would be more than three to four times the projected amount for Kentucky Trails, which will be the largest capital campaign in the Zoo’s history. Click for more information on Kentucky Trails.

When are they leaving?
Our current plan is for the elephants to be transported to The Elephant Sanctuary in spring of 2025.

Why will it take a year to move the elephants?
Transporting elephants is a complex process that involves careful coordination between the Louisville Zoo and the Tennessee facility. We will use this time to condition Mikki and Punch so they are prepared for their journey and can travel with minimal stress.

Will you have a going away party?
The Zoo is planning to host a celebration of Mikki and Punch in early 2025, prior to their departure. We will also celebrate Mikki and Punch’s birthdays (in September 2024 and January 2025) as well as World Elephant Day on or around August 12, 2024.

How are the keepers taking this?
While the Zoo’s keepers and staff are saddened to see Mikki and Punch go, they are also comforted to know these beloved animals will have more space to roam, new companions, and the ability to grow even older together in their future home.

About The Elephant Sanctuary

Can I go see Mikki and Punch at the Nashville reserve?
The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee is a true sanctuary and not open to the public.  However, the organization does feature elephant cameras (or EleCams) which gives online guests frequent glimpses of the animals in their care — so you can stay connected and updated on their progress!

What will happen to the elephants at The Sanctuary?
Mikki and Punch will have the companionship of a herd and the opportunity to live out their lives in a 3,000-plus acre safe-haven dedicated to their well-being. To compare size, the entire Louisville Zoo consists of 130 acres.

Will they be together at The Sanctuary?
Yes, Mikki and Punch will be together, along with many other elephants in a new, multigenerational herd.

Will they be safe at their new home?
Mikki and Punch will be looked after by a team of dedicated animal care and veterinary professionals in their new space, which is accredited by the AZA, ensuring highest standard of care, consistent with the level they are accustomed to in Louisville.

Click here for more information about The Elephant Sanctuary.

Transporting The Elephants

How will the elephants get to the new reserve?
Mikki and Punch will be driven separately to Tennessee in a large, specially designed crate. Each animal will be accompanied by a Louisville Zoo keeper who will help acclimate the elephants to their new habitat.

Is there any risk to the elephants traveling?
There is always the potential for risk in any transport. However, the Zoo is working with the best consultants and experts in the field and will spend almost a year to properly acclimate the elephants to the process.

The Future…

What will happen to the elephant exhibit?
The elephant exhibit will be repurposed into a bigger habitat for our rhinos, Sindi and Letterman. 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.

When can we expect elephants back at the Louisville Zoo?
We don’t have a timeline for when elephants may return to the Zoo. A larger more accommodating elephant habitat will be considered in future master planning exercises. A new habitat would require the space, flexibility and capacity to hold a multi-generational breeding herd for any future Louisville Zoo elephant exhibits. However, we approach this vision with the utmost responsibility, taking into account the high capital costs and potential impact on other Zoo needs.

Still have questions about our elephants? Ask us here.


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.