Delhi was born in the wilds of India in 1946. She was captured as a baby and sent to America on a cargo ship where she was purchased by the Hamid Morton Circus. She performed with them until 1974, when she was sold to the Hawthorn Corporation, a company that trained and rented elephants to circuses. For more than 50 years, when Delhi was not on the road performing, she was chained with the rest of the Hawthorn circus elephants in their windowless barn in Illinois.
As with many elephants in captivity, Delhi’s feet began to deteriorate and in April, 2002, a Hawthorn handler soaked her feet in full-strength formaldehyde causing severe chemical burns. After 20 months of continued inadequate care, the USDA exercised emergency intervention, confiscated Delhi and turned her over to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee on November 23, 2003. Delhi became the first captive elephant in American history to be seized from her owner for inhumane treatment, and her condition lead to a landmark case of federal prosecution and the eventual release of the rest of her herd three years later.
Delhi, the Sanctuary’s ninth resident, arrived with an advanced case of osteomyelitis—a life threatening bone infection affecting several toes of her front feet. This disease has never been cured in elephants and currently there is no reversal for the damage done—it is permanent. The Sanctuary made preparations for hospice care, unsure if Delhi could survive her condition much longer. However, Delhi decided she had other plans. After 50+ years in the circus, she was at last free, surrounded by good veterinarians and loving caregivers, and nothing was going to prevent her from enjoying it!
The USDA required Delhi be quarantined from all the other elephants for the next eight months, so a special barn and yard was set up to accommodate her. Caregivers pampered her with foot soaks and playful soccer games, she took daily naps in her yard and soon began to thrive in her new home. On the day she was finally released from quarantine, the gate opened her world to the full habitat and Delhi did not look back! She eventually climbed the hill behind the upper pond and spent the rest of the summer there in peaceful solitude, surrounded by quiet forest and visited often by caregivers and all the other elephants.
In early 2006, Delhi accepted a short “taxi ride” to join her resident herd in the Sanctuary’s newly expanded Asian habitat. That same summer, Misty arrived and they shared a tender reunion. With Misty by her side, Delhi suddenly had a new sparkle in her eye. They remained inseparable companions until March 11, 2008, when at the age of 62, Delhi quietly passed away in her sleep.
We are honored to have been Delhi’s caregivers and forever thankful to have been loved by such a kind and wise being. Namaste dearest Delhi.
Owned By: John Cuneo, Hawthorn Corporation, Richmond, Illinois
Alleged Violations against Delhi by the Hawthorn Corporation:
On Saturday November 22, 2003, APHIS confiscated Delhi from the Hawthorn Corporation for failure to comply with the Animal Welfare Act. Delhi was placed with The Elephant Sanctuary under USDA authority on November 22, 2003. Custody and control were transferred to The Elephant Sanctuary under the condition that The Elephant Sanctuary provide a level of care that complies with the Regulations and Standards of the Animal Welfare Act and provide regular reports of her condition.