The Elephant Sanctuary welcomes Donna, African elephant, from Oakland Zoo

The Sanctuary is excited to announce the safe arrival of African elephant Donna on September 13.

Donna made the journey from Oakland, California, to Hohenwald, Tennessee alongside dedicated zoo staff and veterinarian. Upon her arrival at The Sanctuary, Donna approached her new barn with a deliberate pace, meticulously examining every detail with her trunk. With lots of trumpets and rumbles, Donna dusted herself with sand and engaged with the enrichment provided by The Sanctuary Staff. She snacked on fresh watermelon and hydrating banana leaves before receiving a hose bath. It wasn't long before Donna ventured outside, spending hours exploring the rolling hills and dense woods of Tennessee, which make up her expanded habitat, and meeting her new herd mate, African elephant Flora, through a protected fence line.

Donna’s care team from Oakland Zoo will be collaborating with The Sanctuary on-site to ensure a comfortable transition over the next few days.

After the loss of Donna’s companion, Lisa, in 2023, the zoo explored all opportunities for Donna. Understanding that elephants' social lives play a critical role in supporting their behavioral health, Oakland Zoo stated that a priority was to provide social opportunities for Donna. The zoo made the decision to transfer Donna to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, an AZA-accredited facility, where three female African elephants of her similar age would provide companionship and fulfill her social needs.

In preparation for Donna's relocation, the experienced elephant care team at the Oakland Zoo began positive reinforcement training to encourage her voluntary entry and exit from the transport carrier, continuing until she showed signs of comfort with this routine. Throughout Donna’s travel, strategically planned stops were made along the way to ensure her well-being, providing ample fresh water and nourishment, with her long-time zoo staff and veterinarian continuously monitoring her.

Donna was born in the wilds of Zimbabwe in 1980. At the age of two, she was captured and brought to the United States. She was sold to the Audubon Zoo in 1982, where she lived for eight years. Donna arrived at the Oakland Zoo on April 24, 1990, and resided with African male elephant Osh and African female Lisa, until Lisa’s passing in 2023.

Donna, age 43, will join Flora, African female, age 41, Tange, African female, age 50, and Sukari, African female, age 39, at Africa Habitat & Barn, which has five stalls and expansive habitat space for a successful introduction to The Sanctuary. We are confident Donna will feel welcomed by Flora, Tange, and Sukari, and acclimate quickly to her new home.

"We are honored that our AZA colleagues at Oakland Zoo reached out to The Elephant Sanctuary in making this extremely important decision regarding the continued care and planning for Donna and are happy to announce her safe arrival to Tennessee. We are confident Donna will transition easily to The Sanctuary and, with time, build a close bond and share experiences with African female herd mates Flora, Tange, and Sukari," says Janice Zeitlin, CEO.

About The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee

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 32 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 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 our website at  We welcome you to stay engaged and observe the elephants via our live-streaming EleCams at, and connect with us via social media. 

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