DONNA, the Oakland Zoo’s 43-year-old African elephant, has moved to a new home in Tennessee following the death of her long-time elephant companion Lisa earlier this year. 

Donna came to Oakland in 1990 from the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans and quickly bonded with Lisa, growing so close that the pair slept together in the same barn for years, according to Oakland Zoo officials.

Donna and Lisa were the last female elephants at the zoo, following the 2019 death of 50-year-old M’Dunda.

“Female elephants are deeply social with each other and create close, lifelong bonds,” said Colleen Kinzley, vice president of animal care, conservation and research at the Oakland Zoo. “Our priority has been to ensure Donna, now the sole female at Oakland Zoo, can live out her life with other compatible females.”

To that end, Donna was moved by truck to The Elephant Sanctuary, an Association of Zoos and Aquariums-accredited facility in Hohenwald, Tennessee, where she arrived early morning of Sept. 13.

Donna meets Flora on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023 at her new home at The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn. after moving from the Oakland Zoo, where she lived since 1990. (Oakland Zoo via Bay City News)

On Sept. 14, she was introduced through a protected fence line to the first member of her new herd, 42-year-old Flora, zoo officials said in a news release, and she will soon meet the others — Tange, 50, and Sukari, 39.

Donna, who loves to carry a tire around and eat watermelons, will soon get to range around The Elephant Sanctuary’s 3,060 acres with her new pals. 

People who still want to keep up with Donna’s new life might be able to catch a glimpse of her on The Elephant Sanctuary’s webcams at

Kiley Russell writes primarily for Local News Matters on issues related to equity and the environment. A Bay Area native, he has lived most of his life in Oakland. He studied journalism at San Francisco State University, worked for the Associated Press and the former Contra Costa Times, among other outlets. He has covered everything from state legislatures, local governments, federal and state courts, crime, growth and development, political campaigns of various stripes, wildfires and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.