Although they were not related, Shirley had become sort of a surrogate mom for a young calf named Jenny during their years touring in the Kelly-Miller Circus.
They had both had a pretty rough life since being trapped in Asia and coming to the United States.
Carnivals and circuses are exciting for humans to attend, but what goes on behind the scenes is often cruel and unpleasant. Shirley had been through a lot by the time she met that young calf twenty years younger than she was.
Shirley had been on a ship taking her for a summer tour in Canada when the ship got into trouble. By the time they limped into port, the ship was leaning to one side badly and the elephants, chained to the boat, were barely able to keep themselves upright.
Despite the treacherous journey and narrowly escaping death, the ship was soon righted and the elephants were slated to have to entertain the following day. During the night, a fire broke out in the steam room and the animals all had to be evacuated rapidly to escape the flames.
Shirley made it to shore, but her nightmare wasn’t over. The circus disbanded after this run of bad luck so Shirley was put on a truck headed back into the States. On the way home the truck carrying her was in a horrible accident.
Once again, Shirley barely escaped death unharmed. Her body hadn’t been broken by all of the dramas life was throwing at her at the hands of humans, but her spirit was cracking.
It cracked almost to the breaking point when she was forced back into the active circus life again. Then came a brilliantly bright spot. She was adopted by a younger elephant. Jenny. They became inseparable.
Shirley became a full-time support for Jenny, protecting her from other elephants and providing emotional support for her in a life that offered little emotional stability or love.
One day, years later between shows, one of the other elephants in the troupe attacked poor Shirley, injuring her leg so badly that her entertainment career was forced to end.
Shirley escaped being euthanized when the Louisiana Purchase Zoo made an offer for her. Although that sounded like a wonderful respite at the moment, it was far from an idyllic situation.
The zoo could only afford one elephant, so Shirley had to leave Jenny behind as she was led away from the circus property and loaded on yet another truck to take her to yet another hopeless existence.
Even though elephants are very social animals and it is well documented that they should always be kept in a herd situation or at least with a companion, Shirley was left in isolation…the only elephant at the zoo…for 22 years.
The photo above is of the dismal room where Shirley spent the next two decades of her life. Alone.
When she was in her 50s, Shirley was finally allowed the dignity of the life she should have always enjoyed. She was sent to the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee. At last, Shirley would live free from chains with space to roam.
“I don’t know who was the first to put a chain on her, but I’m glad to know that I’m the one to take it off. She’s free at last,” said Solomon James, Shirley’s caretaker, in an interview to ONE GREEN PLANET.
James had been deeply devoted to her during her time at the Louisiana Zoo. He would miss her but was happy that now Shirley could once again roam free, with a herd of her own kind for the rest of her life.
For a while, after Shirley arrived at the Sanctuary, she was kept in isolation so her caretakers could evaluate her and decide what part of the herd she would do best in joining.
Finally, the day came that Shirley was going to be allowed to join other elephants. For the first time in 22 years, she looked at another elephant. One that was brought into the pen beside her to gauge her reaction.
All of a sudden, the other elephant let out a roar that Shirley quickly copied. The caretakers weren’t sure what was going on.
They all waited with hearts in their mouth with no clue about what was going to take place. Imagine their surprise when they realized that the two elephants were, in fact, roaring with delight at being reunited.
As the sanctuary workers later figured out, the other elephant, the one that had recognized Shirley, was Jenny. After 22 years, she had not forgotten. And neither had Shirley.
As Carol Buckley, Executive Director of the Sanctuary described it to PBS NATURE, “that was the love that started our elephant family. She added, “They gave the sanctuary its future.”
The story and video of that meeting swept around the world. It did more for elephant rescue and welfare than any lectures or reports written by humans could have done.
For the next six years, Jenny and Shirley were inseparable. Both of them happy, free and best of all together. They both bonded with another elephant, Bunny, who they added to their little family.
Sadly, Jenny got very sick and passed away just 10 years after being freed at the Sanctuary. Her illness was a direct result of the abuses she had suffered during her time in the circus.
Shirley and Bunny mourned her loss in a way that is unbelievable to anyone who does not understand elephants. You can visit the Sanctuary’s website to see a full description of the beauty and the sadness of the moment.
But, the elephant family at the Sanctuary, like all families, pulled themselves together and continue today to live each day to its fullest. Shirley and Bunny soon met a new elephant, Misty, that they are treating like family now.
May they all continue to be blessed with the beautiful life they all deserve so fully.
Source: We Love Animals