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Life Without Winky

April 15, 2008

We have been overwhelmed with messages of love and sadness from the myriad fans of Winky, who had become the favorite personality of many “Seeing The Elephant” visits. Because of her love of attention and interest in everyone who came to ARK, she dominated the Asian area when her buddies were out exploring the habitat. She would spend her time watching for new friends and signaling to all that she was ready to play games, do foot soaks, take baths or anything else that allowed her to be the center of attention. Winky’s gentle presence was a great source of pleasure to everyone.

When elephants in the wild are unable to stand because of old age or injuries, the herd makes a concerted effort to lift their fallen companion, standing over her, protecting her from predators as they try to lift her to her feet. If she is unable to stand on her own, they know she is dying, and, after a long farewell, they must leave her and move on. After that, death is usually very swift when predators move in and attack. In captivity, elephants who cannot stand may die a very lengthy and painful death without some intervention.

At PAWS, we bring in heavy equipment and try to gently lift the elephant to her feet. This worked twice with our Tammy, and she lived another seven years; but the third time she went down, she could not stand on her own. When Maggie went down in Alaska, zoo personnel lifted her and kept her standing, and she is now roaming the hills of ARK 2000. Those options did not work for Tinkerbelle or Winky, but we tried.

When we know that our attempts are fruitless, it is then our responsibility to provide a dignified, painless and peaceful release for the elephant. Leaving her to die a prolonged and painful death would be emotionally impossible for our keepers, and us, so euthanasia is necessary. We remain with the elephant, playing, rumbling and talking as a heavy dose of narcotics is administered, usually without her knowledge, and she drifts off to sleep. In our opinion, it is the kindest action we can take.

Necropsies are the most essential components in determining health care and treatment for any animal, especially aging, arthritic elephants. Winky’s necropsy was performed at the University of California, Davis, by a team of the foremost pathologists in the country. Dr. Ann Duncan, Winky’s devoted and long-time veterinarian from Detroit, assisted the UCD team.

The preliminary results of the necropsy have confirmed the original diagnosis of Winky’s problems and the treatments that were prescribed for her and Wanda. The final results will provide vital information for treating foot problems and chronic arthritis in elephants. This essential information will also assist us in caring for Wanda, Minnie, Rebecca and Annie, all elephants who are afflicted with the same problems.

In India, where elephants are often viewed as sacred, necropsies are frequently performed and elephants are cremated after death.

PAWS is located in California, one of the most environmentally conscious states in the country. Water quality is a constant source of discussion, and residents, particularly those who occupy large, open spaces are discouraged from burying livestock and contaminating ground water. It is our policy to cremate our animals when they die in deference to the environment and our neighbors.

Winky is no longer visible, but her presence remains with us and the elephants, a gentle reminder that death is not the end.


Winky Exploring ARK 2000

Performing Animal Welfare Society
PO Box 849, Galt, CA 95632

(209) 745-2606 office/shelter
(209) 745-1809 fax

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