July 8, 2013


Shirley in the woods

It has been 14 years since Shirley made the 400 mile trip from her zoo home in Monroe, LA to her new, forever home at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, receiving a surprise welcome from an old friend. It was the final leg of a journey that began in Sumatra in 1948. Elephants in captivity are sometimes referred to as “ambassadors” for their species, a role into which they have been forced. Shirley didn’t volunteer for the position of ele-ambassador, but the title fits.

The Sanctuary is celebrating Shirley’s 65th birthday next week.  Over the course of those 65 years, Shirley has made a lasting impact on the lives of thousands of people with whom she has interacted – be that as a circus performer, a beloved resident of a zoo, or as a revered elder within a herd of her peers at The Sanctuary. 

The Sanctuary fields a lot of well wishing letters and emails for all of the Girls, but Shirley has been receiving even more attention than usual lately. 

From a 3rd grade class in North Carolina:

  • “Dear Shirley, you are the cutest in the pack. I hope this doesn’t hurt the other’s feelings.”
  • “I’m sorry you’re hurt. I hope you heal.”
  •  “Everybody loves you!”
  • “xoxoxoxoxo”

From an old friend in Monroe:

“Shirley seemed to enjoy my attention as she would perk up when I visited her. We had a game where I would hide apples or carrots in my pants pocket or jacket, and she would gently search for them. Often, after finding and eating a treat, she'd raise her trunk and then lower it and touch my shoulder or the side of my face. I would always respond with a gentle pat to her jaw or trunk and a hug.”

And a reconnected acquaintance from 50 years ago:

“And if you get a chance to whisper in Shirley's injured ear someday, tell her 3 little old ladies from Yarmouth County send big hugs and lots of love from 1963!”

Today, Shirley is in Sanctuary.  She may be grazing with Tarra, or she may be alone - walking in her signature lop-sided mosey – maybe occasionally remembering glimpses from the past.  Shirley at 65 is a model of health and stability, and she is definitely still an ambassador of sorts. Shirley now represents the way of life that all elephants in captivity deserve. She’s earned it.

Watch video of Shirley and Tarra below.