City Cast

A Look Back at Tanya the Elephant

Adrian González
Adrian González
Posted on October 6
Tanya the elephant fills out a bingo card.

How much are you betting on Tanya? (UNLV Special Collections and Archives)

Meet Tanya, the Thai elephant who was born in captivity and became a famous performer before our perception of keeping animals in captivity for the sake of entertainment evolved.

German immigrant and performance animal trainer Jan Vinicky, who performed under the stage name Smaha but was nicknamed Jenda, acquired Tanya in 1965 and trained her to perform on stage and they subsequently landed in Las Vegas in the late 1960’s. Tanya’s performances captivated audiences throughout the 1970s — she famously performed casino tricks, often playing craps, keno, and slot machines. In fact, Tanya’s slot machine trick was featured in the James Bond movie “Diamonds are Forever.”

Jenda and Tanya were invited to perform in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip in 1967. Tanya would go on to participate in Circus Circus Hotel & Casino acts in the late 1960s and appear on late night shows like The Ed Sullivan Show.

Seeing Quadruple

As was the case with many performance animals of the era, the original Tanya would be succeeded by a total of four elephants who worked under that name.

Tanya the elephant during rehearsals for a TV show in 1967.

Tanya the Elephant crushes the competition, c. 1967. (Mirrorpix / Getty)

Do you have any stories about Tanya the elephant?

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