Celebrating Nichole

On a recent bright autumn afternoon, The Sanctuary's Staff came together to commemorate and celebrate the cherished memory of Nichole, who passed on April 20, 2023, at the age of 48. Nichole was The Sanctuary’s 30th elephant resident.

Nichole's final resting place was thoughtfully selected on a hillside adjacent to the Asia Habitat and Barn, nestled beside the resting site of Shirley, Misty, Winkie, Dulary, and Delhi. Here, Nichole will forever be surrounded by the beauty of the Tennessee forest and the natural landscape that provided her sanctuary during her final days.

The Sanctuary Staff celebrated Nichole and her remarkable journey, sharing heartfelt tributes to her grace and resilience. Janice Zeitlin, the CEO of The Sanctuary, spoke as Staff gathered, "We are here in this special place to honor and pay our respects to Nichole.  She was here briefly, but in her time with us, she touched us all." Janice acknowledged the extraordinary efforts of the dedicated Care Staff and Vet Team, adding, "You provided hospice care, focusing on her quality of life, and constant compassionate care so that she could live life comfortably and with dignity and respect.”

Staff placed stones on Nichole's memorial to commemorate and serve as a symbol for all those who cared for her.

“A word that kept coming to me to describe Nichole is resiliency. The resilience we saw in her was incredible,” said Kristy Eaker, Senior Manager of Elephant Care. “Nichole served as a reminder that this is a sanctuary, a place where elephants truly deserve peaceful rest.” Staff will forever recall Nichole for her shimmering sparks — “How she was always covered in sand or mud, her long naps in the sun, how she would lean in for scratches, and my favorite memory, the way she would hold a carrot in her lower lip,” said Kristy.

Nichole (Nicky) was born in Myanmar (Burma) in 1975 as part of a herd that worked in Burmese timber camps. These government-run camps utilized captive and wild elephants for labor to extract and move large timber. In 1980, Nichole was imported to the United States and spent the next several decades performing and on exhibition as part of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey traveling circus. 

In 2016, Nichole moved to San Antonio Zoo in Texas, where she became one of three female elephants known as the “Golden Girls.” After the passing of Nichole’s two companions, Karen and Lucky, in 2022, San Antonio Zoo made the decision to transfer Nichole to The Sanctuary to provide her with continued social and herd opportunities.

Nichole arrived March 9, 2023, with a long history of chronic foot disease and osteomyelitis. These health issues were compounded by more recent diagnosis of degenerative joint disease, osteoarthritis, and septic arthritis. Nichole’s conditions impacted her quality of life and, combined with her age, set a grave prognosis. Due to irreversible progression of these health issues and the increasing pain associated, Nichole was humanely euthanized on April 20, 2023. To read more about her condition and time at The Sanctuary, visit www.elephants.com/news/elenotes.

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