Birth status: wild born
• Captured from the wild: 1953
• Life before the Sanctuary: performed for thirty years with the Carson and Barnes Circus, then lived at the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo for another twenty-three years
• Reason for coming to the Sanctuary: crippled and living alone
• Shirley moved to the Elephant Sanctuary July 6, 1999
Height: Nearly 9 feet
Weight: 9200 lbs.
Favorite Food: Apples
Shirley is our oldest elephant, wild caught in Sumatra over fifty years ago.
Her back right leg was broken thirty years ago when she was attacked by a fellow circus elephant. She is missing a large section of her right ear as result of a fire which not only injured her ear but also left several scars on her back, side and feet.
Hohenwald, Tennessee (June 9, 1999) - Shirley, a rare Asian elephant who has spent most of her life entertaining audiences all over the world, will retire July 6 to the Elephant Sanctuary, the nationally renowned, natural-habitat pachyderm refuge located in Hohenwald, TN.
"We're overjoyed that after such a storied career Shirley will be joining our other elephants," said Carol Buckley, founder and executive director of The Elephant Sanctuary. "Yet, making way for her arrival will be both emotionally and financially demanding."
"The transport and care of an elephant like Shirley doesn't come cheap" she adds. "We'll need the help of our supporters and volunteers, as well as new sources, to provide a seamless transition to this new chapter of Shirley's life."
Shirley was fifty-one when she was retired to The Elephant Sanctuary. She has quite a colorful past. At age five, she was captured from the wilds of Asia and was purchased by the Kelly–Miller Circus. In 1958, while the circus was traveling through Cuba, Fidel Castro seized power. Shirley and the entire circus were held captive by Castro's forces for several weeks before being set free. Unfortunately that was not the end of Shirley's saga. A few years later, her circus ship was docked in Nova Scotia, when a fire broke out in the engine room. This incident caused the ship to sink, killing two animals. Luckily, Shirley was rescued without harm.
Story and photos about the ship fire in Nova Scotia.
In 1975, at age twenty-eight, while performing for the Lewis Brothers Circus, Shirley was attacked by another elephant. Her right hind leg was seriously broken. It was not set and healed poorly, causing everyday life to be somewhat difficult. Regardless of her injury Shirley was forced to perform in the circus for nearly two more years before being sold to the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo in Monroe, LA.
Usually female elephants live in-groups, but for safety concerns related to her injury, Shirley was kept apart and lived alone at the zoo for twenty-two years. According to the Sanctuary Founding Director Carol Buckley, the Zoo was generous to Shirley by providing her with a loving environment, but the time came when the Zoo felt Shirley could lead a healthier life in a natural habitat. That is when the Zoo contacted The Elephant Sanctuary.
"We knew we could trust The Elephant Sanctuary to offer Shirley the kind of life she deserves," explained The Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo Director, Jake Yelverton. "It was in Shirley's best interest to retire her to a place that was more suitable."
"It goes to show after everything Shirley has been through, what survivors these animals really are," said Buckley.
Shirley moved to the Sanctuary July 6, 1999 joining Tarra, Jenny and Barbara, the three residents.
September 9, 2003
This dear note was sent by a three year old after he met Shirley on our site.
Carol Buckley, Sanctuary Director, describes their reunion.
"Jenny came into the barn for the first time since Shirley's arrival at around 7:00 p.m. There was an immediate urgency in Jenny's behavior. She wanted to get close to Shirley who was divided by two stalls. Once Shirley was allowed into the adjacent stall the interaction between her and Jenny became quite intense. Jenny wanted to get into the stall with Shirley desperately.She became agitated, banging on the gate and trying to climb through and over.
After several minutes of touching and exploring each other, Shirley started to ROAR and I mean ROAR—Jenny joined in immediately. The interaction was dramatic, to say the least, with both elephants trying to climb in with each other and frantically touching each other through the bars. I have never experienced anything even close to this depth of emotion".
"We opened the gate and let them in together....they are as one bonded physically together. One moves, and the other shows in unison. It is a miracle and joy to behold. All day yesterday (July 7) they moved side by side and when Jenny lay down, Shirley straddled her in the most obvious protective manner and shaded her body from the sun and harm. This relationship is intense and resembles that of mother and daughter. We are so blessed.
Last night, July 7th, they stayed out together—a first for Jenny. It was beautiful. Scott and I brought out their PM and AM groceries and they are as content as two peas in a pod!!! The joy in this sacred valley is almost overwhelming."
Contact The Elephant Sanctuary
The Elephant Sanctuary
P. O. Box 393
Hohenwald, TN 38462
804 Darbytown Rd.
Hohenwald, TN 38462
Tel: (931) 796-6500
Tel: (931) 796-6500
M-F, 9am-5pm CT
Visits to the Sanctuary: Visitation Policy
Volunteer: Volunteer Day