Asian Elephant Shirley turns 72 at The Sanctuary
The Elephant Sanctuary celebrated Asian elephant Shirley's 72nd birthday and 21st year at The Sanctuary on July 6, 2020.
At 72 years old, Shirley, defies all odds as one of the oldest elephants in captivity and has lived well beyond the life expectancy for a captive Asian elephant. Shirley is the oldest elephant at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee and holds the record for the third oldest elephant in North America.
Born in Sumatra in 1948, Shirley was captured from the wild and sold to a traveling circus, entertaining audiences for more than 20 years. In addition to the immense physical and emotional impact that a life of performance has on captive elephants, during her time in the circus, Shirley survived capture by Fidel Castro's forces as well as a highway accident that killed two other elephants. In 1963, the circus ship Shirley was traveling on caught fire and partially sank, leaving Shirley with burns on her back, side, and feet and causing her to lose part of her right ear.
In 1974, Shirley suffered a broken leg during an altercation with another elephant. As a result of her injury, in 1977, she was transferred to The Louisiana Purchase Zoo and Gardens, where she was the sole elephant resident for 22 years. As Shirley aged, the zoo staff decided she needed more space and the companionship of other elephants. Her primary caretaker, Solomon James, accompanied Shirley on her journey to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. Her arrival and emotional reunion with another Asian elephant, Jenny was captured by Argo Films and became part of the documentary, The Urban Elephant. It was later discovered that Shirley and Jenny had performed together in the circus 24 years earlier. For the next seven years, Shirley and Jenny were inseparable in a relationship resembling one of a mother and daughter.