In Memory of Delhi
1946 ~ March 11, 2008


Delhi’s Prayer
Delhi, I pray for your safe journey; unencumbered, light-footed and protected.
I pray for your safe journey to where your spirit needs to go.
Namaste our dearest Delhi.



Born: 1946
Birthplace: India
Birth status: wild born
• Captured from the wild : 1947
• Life before the Sanctuary : performed with the Hamid Morton Circus from 1947 until 1974, then transferred to the Hawthorn Corporation
• Reason for coming to the Sanctuary : Confiscated by the USDA (first ever USDA confiscation of an elephant)
• Moved to The Elephant Sanctuary November 23, 2003

Height: 8'
Weight: 7,100 lbs
Favorite Food: Carrots

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!

DelhiThe 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.


Last Owned By: John Cuneo, Hawthorn Corporation, Richmond, Illinois
On April 9, 2003, the USDA filed charges against Hawthorn Corporation, several Hawthorn employees, and Walker Bros. Circus, which rented Hawthorn's elephants. The complaint alleges 47 violations of the minimum standards of care established in the Animal Welfare Act that affected 12 elephants between March 29, 2001, and June 1, 2002.

Alleged Violations against Delhi by the Hawthorn Corporation:

  • Failure to handle an elephant in a manner that did not cause trauma, physical harm, unnecessary discomfort
  • Exhibiting an animal under conditions that were inconsistent with her good health and well-being
  • Failure to provide veterinary care to an elephant suffering from severe chemical burns and bacterial infection
  • March 29, 2001: Delhi had an injury on her left front foot with an open bleeding lesion.
  • October 5, 2001: Delhi had an open, draining, and bleeding wound on her nail. The area above the nail was swollen. The cuticles on both of her front feet were very overgrown. Delhi was limping in pain and favored her leg during the performance.
  • April 23, 2002: Delhi had severe tissue damage to the front feet and several abscessed areas on her body, including areas on both hips, between the eyes, the anterior portion of the ear attachment, on her head, the elbows of both front legs, and the tail. Chemical burns on Delhi's feet were the result of the use of undiluted formaldehyde to soak Delhi's feet. On March 4, 2002, Delhi was found in a serious health emergency. Both of her front legs were twice their normal size and were swollen up to her chest. She could not bend her front legs at the elbows, was reluctant to bear weight on her front legs, and had difficulty in walking.
  • May 4, 2002: The USDA's elephant veterinary consultant found that Delhi had numerous lesions, a swollen tail, swollen front feet with skin damage and abscess blow-outs, abscess defects on the foot pads, and a huge split nail.

On November 21, 2003, pursuant to the Animal Welfare Act (AWA ) the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service conducted an inspection of the Hawthorn Corporation’s facilities, records, and an Asian elephant named Delhi. They found Delhi to be suffering as a result of the failure of the Hawthorn Corporation to comply with the regulations and standards under the AWA.

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.

» Read more about Delhi's confiscation.