Louisville Zoo Preparing Mikki and Punch for Retirement at The Elephant Sanctuary (Media Release)

Contact:  Kyle Shepherd
(O) 502-238-5331 (C) 502-744-5639  

Louisville Zoo Preparing Mikki and Punch for Retirement at The Elephant Sanctuary

Providing More Socialization in Their Golden Years

The Louisville Zoo is initiating preparations to relocate African elephant Mikki and Asian elephant Punch to The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee. Accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), The Elephant Sanctuary is the nation’s largest natural habitat elephant refuge of over 3,000 acres. Louisville Zoo anticipates the transition will occur sometime in the spring of 2025.

Like many institutions, the Louisville Zoo has arrived at a crossroads of tradition and reality. While elephants have been a featured species for most of the Zoo’s 54-year history, our recognition of the species’ complex social structure has evolved dramatically. Wild elephants typically live in herds comprised of multi-generational, related females and young males, led by an experienced matriarch. Relocation to The Elephant Sanctuary ensures lifelong companionship for Mikki and Punch in a safe, expansive setting.

The highest standards of welfare and care are at the heart of this and any difficult decision the Zoo makes for its animal residents. “The gap continues to widen between what we can realistically provide our aging elephants and our evolved understanding of their geriatric needs,” said Louisville Zoo Director Dan Maloney. “Louisville Zoo has reached the point where it is imperative that we secure a place for Mikki and Punch where they can retire together, and their complex social needs are fully met throughout their golden years.”

“Even though we know that Punch and Mikki moving to The Elephant Sanctuary is best for them, we also know that we will miss them terribly. Experiencing both some sadness about their eventual departure, and joy regarding their new life in Tennessee is expected, and we all appreciate having the coming year to say our proper goodbyes.”

Next Steps

The Zoo’s elephant care team has begun the process of acclimating Mikki and Punch to the transportation process. Guests are welcome to observe Zoo staff as they positively condition the elephants to voluntarily enter their custom-designed, 17,000-pound, 8-foot-wide transport container.

The Future

The Louisville Zoo recognizes our community’s strong connections with Mikki and Punch. The Zoo team will continue to share regular updates about the duo in their new home as well as support for wild elephant conservation efforts worldwide.

The current elephant enclosure will be repurposed for the Zoo’s southern white rhinoceroses: 40-year-old female, Sindi, and 9-year-old male, Letterman.

A unique species that is new to the Louisville Zoo — okapi, or forest giraffe — is under consideration to inhabit what will become the former rhino exhibit.

In future master planning exercises, the Zoo will consider a new, larger elephant habitat with additional accommodations, shade and the capability to hold a multi-generational herd. However, taking into account the high capital costs for a state-of-the-art elephant habitat (estimated at more than 100 million), the space needed, and potential impacts on other essential Zoo projects, planning will be approached with the utmost responsibility.

About Mikki and Punch

Asian elephant Punch arrived at the Zoo in 1973. African elephant Mikki followed in 1987. Mikki gave birth to two male calves, Scotty and Fitz, while at the Louisville Zoo.

About The Elephant Sanctuary

Located on 3,060 acres in Hohenwald, Tennessee, The Elephant Sanctuary is the nation’s largest natural-habitat refuge developed specifically for Asian and African elephants. Founded in 1995, The Sanctuary has provided 33 elephants with individualized care, the companionship of a herd, and the opportunity to live out their lives in a safe haven dedicated to their well-being. The Sanctuary is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and has been dually recognized through accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. The Elephant Sanctuary is currently home to 12 elephant residents. 

To learn more about The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, please visit their website at www.elephants.com. Observe the elephants via live-streaming EleCams at www.elephants.com/elecam.


The Louisville Zoo, the State Zoo of Kentucky, is the top, non-profit, paid attraction in the state. The Zoo is dedicated to bettering the bond between people and our planet by providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for visitors, and leadership in scientific research and conservation education. The Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

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