Two elephants, both captured from the wild and transported miles from their true home, briefly met at a circus when one of them, Jenny, was a baby and the other, Shirley, was in her early twenties.
That’s when Shirley took on the role of baby Jenny’s mother in the circus before they were separated and forced in two different ways.
Over the years, Jenny suffered great torture and kept running away from her trainers during circus performances. Eventually, she was sent to the Hawthorn Corporation in Illinois for breeding purposes and in the process, she suffered a serious injury that left her limp for many years.
When she was finally classified as “useless” as a breeder, the abandoned elephant was returned to circus life for another two years before she was finally allowed to retire in 1996 at the Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary. With scars on her body and a weak rearfoot, Jenny made it to the sanctuary and finally got used to her new lifestyle.
About three years later, a new elephant arrived at the sanctuary and Jenny seemed very eager to meet the newcomer. The people in the sanctuary couldn’t understand what made this encounter between the two elephants so intense; They thought it was nothing more than an informal greeting where a resident greeted the newcomer. For the two elephants, however, it was an emotional reunion, because Jenny knew immediately that the newcomer was none other than Shirley, the same elephant she had met when she was a baby in the circus more than two decades ago.
Shirley had come to the Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary with her own scars and stories of abuse that she had endured over the years. She came out alive from a road accident that killed two other elephants, lost part of her ear on a circus boat, caught fire and nearly sank, and broke her hind leg in a fight with another elephant while traveling to the Lewis brothers. Circus.
In 1999, she was finally able to retire to the sanctuary and, more importantly, meet someone very special after a separation of about 24 years, Tennessean said.
Shirley and Jenny shared such a strong bond that they were like mother and daughter in their later years together, according to PBS. “That was the love that started our elephant family,” said Carol Buckley, executive director of the Sanctuary, explaining how the relationship between the two elephants changed everything.
“After Shirley’s arrival, the elephants that had once been companions and friends were now sisters and aunts in Shirley and Jenny’s mother-daughter relationship. They gave the sanctuary its future, ”Carol added.
The assembled elephants remained immensely close until the day Jenny died. “The day before she died, Jenny was downstairs and she didn’t want to get up,” Carol recalled. Shirley stood next to her and insisted that Jenny get up. Jenny just couldn’t get up. Then Jenny got up, but she had to lean on Shirley to keep up. If you looked at Shirley’s face, you could see that she knew Jenny was dying. Jenny fell to the ground and Shirley went into the woods. ”
The next morning, October 17, 2006, Jenny died while Shirley was staying in the woods. She did not eat anything for two days.
“It was very tough and especially tough on Shirley,” Carol said. “Shirley’s whole life revolved around taking care of baby Jenny. She was like a mother losing her baby.”
After Shirley spent the last years of her life in peace and joined the other elephants in the herd, Shirley passed away on February 22, 2021 at the age of 72. After overcoming extremely difficult circumstances, Shirley was considered a true survivor and lived far beyond the life expectancy of an Asian elephant in captivity. She also held the record for the second oldest elephant in North America.
“We have learned a great deal about the dignity and grace of aging elephants in captivity by caring for Shirley, and we will continue to apply that knowledge to care for all current and future residents,” said Janice Zeitlin, executive director of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. . “Shirley leaves a lasting legacy of a truly remarkable life and is deeply missed by all.”