Billie was born wild in India in 1962. Like so many other elephants of her generation, she was captured a very young age and shipped to the United States to be on exhibit and to perform for the public.
After a short time at the Southwick Zoo in Mendon, MA, Billie was sold into the performing industry. Records indicate around the age of ten, Billie was acquired by the Hawthorn Corporation, a company that trained and leased elephants to circuses. Billie traveled and performed with other elephants. Reports of her increasingly becoming more aggressive towards her trainers led to Billie being retired from performing and being sent to live permanently at the Hawthorn Corporation winter quarters. As a result of the USDA's prosecution for violations of the Animal Welfare Act involving inadequate care and mistreatment of its elephants, Billie and seven other members of the Hawthorn Corporation's elephant herd were sent to The Elephant Sanctuary in early 2006.
On February 9, 2006, at the age of 44, Billie became the 21st resident of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, arriving with Frieda. They were the last Hawthorn elephants to arrive. Billie came with the reputation as a dangerous elephant, and Care Staff noted early on that Billie seemed very fearful. In time, Billie was observed interacting more with the other elephants, even going for swims in the pond near the barn. Soon, Billie, Liz, and Frieda began spending most of their time together. All arrived with chronic health conditions including exposure to tuberculosis. While Frieda was usually the "pathfinder" of the group, Billie would sometimes be spotted high on the hillside overlooking the barn, grazing by herself, and sometimes chirping out loud. When Frieda would lie down, Liz and Billie would stand watch over her.
Billie has responded well to The Sanctuary's Protected Contact management system which allows her the freedom to choose when and how she interacts with Sanctuary Staff. In 2011, after nearly five years at The Sanctuary, Billie allowed Caregivers to remove her ankle chain—the last vestige of her life as a circus elephant.
In 2015, Frieda and Liz passed away after their long-standing chronic health conditions became progressively worse. Billie and Ronnie have since been spending a lot of time together, and Billie continues to venture into unexplored areas of the vast Quarantine Habitat.
Billie is the focus of a book, Last Chain on Billie: How One Extraordinary Elephant Escaped the Big Top by Carol Bradley, published by St. Martin's Press in 2014 and available for purchase through The Sanctuary. The following is an excerpt from the publisher's description:
Against the backdrop of a glittering but brutal circus world, Last Chain on Billie charts the history of elephants in America, the inspiring story of The Elephant Sanctuary, and the spellbinding tale of Billie—a resilient elephant who defied the system even as she struggled to overcome a life of abuse and never lost sight of the life she was meant to have.
Billie’s compelling story is a testament to the intelligence, emotional complexity, and remarkable strength of elephants, captive or free.