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Winky the elephant dies at foothills sanctuary

SACRAMENTO -- Winky the elephant, who delighted Sacramento Zoo visitors for nearly 40 years and "retired" three years ago to the Performing Animal Welfare Society's compound in San Andreas, died Monday, the organization announced.

Born in 1952, Winky was one of the oldest elephants in the United States, said PAWS spokeswoman Kim Gardner.

The pachyderm, who suffered from joint problems, was unable to get back on her feet after sliding to her hindquarters over the weekend, forcing veterinarians to make the difficult decision to put her to death, said PAWS founder Pat Derby.

"Winky was a wonderful girl," Derby said in a statement. "She was a favorite for all of those who cared for her. She had a happy spring day yesterday, getting lots of attention and of course lots of special treats. We will miss her terribly."

Winky lived at the Sacramento Zoo for 36 years before she was shipped to the Detroit Zoo, where she could commune with other elephants. She and her companion, Wanda, lived there for 17 years before their Northern California homecoming in 2005.