Born: 1968
Birthplace: Thailand
Birth status: wild born
• Captured from the wild: 1969
• Life before the Sanctuary: Frank Buck Zoo, Houston Zoo and El Paso Zoo
• Reason for coming to the Sanctuary: beaten by her keepers at the El Paso Zoo
• Sissy moved to the Sanctuary January 26, 2000

Height: 8' 6"
Favorite Food: Carrots

Sissy was captured in Thailand in 1969. She has quite a long body which is consistent with elephants from her region. Her face and ears are covered with a great deal of natural depigmentation which gives a polka dot effect. Her ears are large with a loose, rippling flap across the top.

Sissy lived alone in a zoo for many years with no friends. She had to be creative and improvise. The tire she carries is not the exact tire she had growing up but it has become an acceptable substitute. Sissy likes to take her tire with her just about everywhere she goes.

Sissy at the Zoo
The photo above is Sissy when she lived at the Zoo.

She was captured and separated from her mother and family at one year old. If she had been left in a natural situation, Sissy would have spent her entire life, some 60-70 years, with her mother and female relatives. She would have grown to know and depend upon her aunts, cousins, sisters, and grandmother for guidance and protection. Her role as a sister and mother would have brought her status and responsibility in her family. In her golden years she would have been treated with respect for her knowledge and wisdom. In her final days she would have been protected by those daughters and nieces whom she had nurtured from infancy.

Sissy as a babyInstead, Sissy was shipped to America where she became the favorite attraction at Six Flags over Texas Amusement Park petting zoo. She was one of a long line of such attractions at the park. But the practice of separating a baby elephant from her mother and placing her on exhibit for human entertainment ceased at the park in the early 70s. This change in policy coincided with the declaration of the Asian elephant as an endangered species. Records indicate that in December 1969 Sissy was sold to the Frank Buck Zoo in Gainesville, Texas as a replacement for the zoo's previous elephant, Gerry, who had died of an unknown cause. Although Sissy's keepers continued to call her by her given name, the community of Gainesville always knew her as Gerry II, named after her predecessor.

Sissy immediately became the focal point of the zoo. Locals remember visiting the zoo; and although they cannot name any other animal on exhibit, they all could recall Gerry II by name. In 1981, Sissy's popularity and renown grew, she became an icon and mascot for Cooke County.

In the record flood of 1981, Sissy and many of the Frank Buck Zoo's animal collection were swept from their enclosures. Sissy was presumed dead but when the waters started to recede, she was spotted. Actually it was her trunk that was spotted, wrapped around a tree limb, sticking just above the water line. It would be another 24 hours before the water level dropped enough for Sissy to free herself from the tree that her body and trunk were wrapped around. Sissy suffered long-term emotional trauma from that horrifying accident. Several who were close to her have said that the threat of a pending storm causes Sissy to become petrified with fear. Her phobia of water was so deep that for years Sissy would allow only one keeper to give her a bath.

In 1988, flood waters once again threatened the lives and homes of the zoo's animals. This time, acting director of the city's parks, zoo, and recreation facilities, Mr. Milburn Cravens, assisted by his son Allen, evacuated Sissy and many other zoo animals.

Responding to the recommendation of the Association of Zoos Species Survival Plan, in 1986, Sissy was shipped to the Fort Worth Zoo for breeding. This was the first time since infancy that Sissy would be with others of her own kind. Sadly her socialization skills were not developed, making interaction with the other elephants difficult for her. Additionally, Sissy was now separated from her longtime keeper and was now expected to respond to strangers. She reportedly showed signs of aggression toward her new keepers and did not relate well with the other elephants. Those who knew her well observed that Sissy was miserable. During her two-year stay at the Fort Worth Zoo, she was never successfully bred and was returned to the Frank Buck Zoo. Sissy reportedly settled back into her life at the Frank Buck Zoo without incident.

But nearly ten years later another tragic accident occurred. With no witnesses to explain what had happened, one of Sissy's keepers was killed while in her enclosure. She was now labeled a killer. This accident has torn the city of Gainesville apart and caused Sissy to be permanently removed from her home of 28 years. The zoo's animal curator suggested that Sissy's facilities were inadequate and that she would be better off in a herd situation with more spacious facilities. This was the first time the Elephant Sanctuary offered to take Sissy. Knowing her history and convinced she would thrive at the Sanctuary, the offer was made to give Sissy a home at no cost to the city of Gainesville.

But on April 13, 1998, Sissy was donated to the Houston Zoo. Although we were disappointed that Sissy would not be joining our family, we felt her new home could meet her special needs. The Houston Zoo has top-of-the-line, protected-contact facilities, qualified staff, and a compatible herd of Asian elephants. However, the Houston Zoo was simply a temporary home for Sissy until facilities were made ready for her at the El Paso Zoo. During her year at the Houston Zoo, her keepers found her to be fairly antisocial, fairly aggressive, but moderately workable in protected contact, and a poor eater. They recommended she remain in protected-contact management.

Less than a year later and regardless of the fact that the El Paso Zoo's protected-contact facilities were not yet complete, Sissy was sent packing again. Her arrival at the El Paso Zoo came with a harsh reception at the hands of her new caretakers. The reception was videotaped by zoo staff for in-house purposes, but the video made it into the hands of the media. When the story broke and the video aired, the citizens of El Paso were outraged. Within two weeks the El Paso City Council voted to remove Sissy from their zoo and send her to The Elephant Sanctuary.

Upon notice that the City of El Paso wished to send Sissy to The Elephant Sanctuary, Carol Buckley, founder and executive director of the Sanctuary, went to El Paso to meet this notorious elephant. What she found was a severely underweight, depressed animal. Zoo staff reported that Sissy was not yet accepted by the other elephants and that Savanna, one of the two other elephants, had knocked her down at least twice. Each time a crane had to be brought into the yard to get Sissy to her feet. Sissy was not lying down at night and had difficulty rising when she did lie down. Earlier this year the elephant staff spent four months hand-feeding Sissy after a medical procedure left her trunk completely paralyzed. Thanks to their dedication, Sissy was able to consume enough calories to sustain herself, but she still remains quite thin. Her keepers say Sissy is well behaved and attentive to their requests. They say she has shown no signs of aggression since the initial "discipline session." Several factors were considered when the staff of The Elephant Sanctuary decided to accept Sissy: her physical condition, her emotional condition, her behavioral history, and her current status with the other elephants. All things considered, we knew this would be the second time we would offer Sissy a home at The Elephant Sanctuary. Weather permitting, Sissy will arrive at her new and permanent home January 26, 2000

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Mayor Announces Resignation of El Paso Zoo Director
January 13, 2000

At a hastily-called news conference Thursday afternoon, Mayor Carlos Ramirez announced the resignation of David G. Zucconi from his position as director of the El Paso Zoo.

The action followed announcement that the US Department of Agriculture had charged the El Paso Zoo with multiple violations of the Federal Animal Welfare Act. The charges stem from the videotaped beating of Sissy, an elephant at the El Paso Zoo, in November 1998.

Zucconi repeatedly had asserted that he would not resign his job as a result of the public condemnation of the elephant's beating, which Zucconi claimed was ordinary "training."

Sissy is expected to be transferred to the Elephant Sanctuacry in Hohenwald, Tennessee, on January 20th, following authorization last month by City Council for the transfer.

Mayor Ramirez said that an "administrative investigation" into the incident at the El Paso Zoo also has been concluded. He indicated that no additional action is expected to be taken in connection with the incident.

The Mayor is expected to ask the City Council to agree next Tuesday to a settlement with the US Department of Agriculture in which the City will acknowledge no wrongdoing in the beating of Sissy. The proposed settlement calls for the City of El Paso to pay a $5,000 fine to the federal government and to spend an additional $5,000 on training zoo employees in appropriate methods of handling elephants. A $10,000 additional fine will be dismissed if the City abides by terms of the agreement and is not caught violating the Animal Welfare Act during the next two years.

An investigation by the El Paso Police Department into violation of the Texas Cruelty to Animals Act is ongoing. # # #

Animal Welfare Charges Brought Against El Paso Zoo
Reported by:
Jim Rogers (301) 734-8563

Laura Sanchez (301) 734-5974

RIVERDALE, Md., Jan. 12, 2000--

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has charged the City of El Paso, Texas, doing business as the El Paso Zoo with multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

"We believe that the El Paso Zoo has broken the letter and the spirit of the Animal Welfare Act," said Michael V. Dunn, under secretary for USDA's marketing and regulatory programs. "In November of 1998 zoo personnel attempted to 'train' an elephant named Sissy. The methods used were unacceptable by any standards and can only be characterized as mistreatment."

APHIS inspectors found that in November of 1998, the El Paso Zoo failed to handle an elephant known as Sissy as expeditiously and carefully as possible in a manner that avoided trauma, behavioral stress, unnecessary discomfort, and physical harm.

"It is a shame," Dunn added, "that in this modern day trainers continue to resort to harmful, outdated, training techniques."

APHIS inspectors conduct inspections of licensees to ensure compliance with the Act. Any violations that inspectors find can lead to civil penalties and license actions. The AWA requires that regulated individuals and businesses provide animals with care and treatment according to standards established by APHIS. The standards include requirements for recordkeeping, adequate housing, sanitation, food, water, transportation, exercise for dogs, veterinary care, and shelter. The law regulates the care of animals that are sold as pets at the wholesale level, transported in commerce, used for biomedical research, or used for exhibition purposes.

In reading any information about Sissy, please be advised that Sissy used to be called Gerry II. They are one and the same elephant.

Tuesday, December 7, 1999: The El Paso City Council voted unanimously -- with the support of the mayor -- to retire Sissy, the elephant at the City Zoo, to the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee.

The resolution reads: "That the Mayor be authorized to sign an Agreement to provide for the removal of Sissy, the elephant, from the El Paso Zoo and the transfer of Sissy to the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, such transfer to be accomplished within sixty (60) days following the effective date of the agreement, in accordance with standards of the American Zoological and Aquarium Association, and at no cost the the City of El Paso."

Dr. Elizabeth Hines, a small animal and exotic bird veterinarian who treated Sissy with acupuncture for her partially paralyzed trunk, spoke against the measure. Dr. Hines said that Sissy should be evaluated by an elephant veterinarian before she is removed from El Paso. She told City Council that she believes their action was precipitous. Dr. Hines told Council that Sissy was unable to fully extend her trunk over her head when she came to El Paso, but the videotaped beating of Sissy -- made on November 6, 1998, two days after her arrival at the El Paso Zoo -- shows Sissy curling her trunk over her head in obedience to a command from her handlers to "salute." Dr. Hines was the only person who spoke against Sissy's removal to the Elephant Sanctuary. She said she had not seen the two-hour videotape of Sissy's being beaten thirteen months ago, although she condemned such action.

Jane Garrison, an elephant specialist from Los Angeles with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, assured City Council that Sissy would receive the best of care during transport to Tennessee and during her residence there.

City Representative Luis Sariñana, who said he came from an abusive home environment, commented that he hoped Sissy could be transferred to the Sanctuary within thirty days instead of within sixty days. When the unanimous vote was taken, about forty of Sissy's supporters and defenders in the audience rose and gave City Council a standing ovation in appreciation of their action.

Carol Buckley, director of the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, said Monday that "Once the vote is in I will speak with the mayor and make arrangements to come to El Paso. I will hold a press conference at that time and lay out plans for fund raising." As soon as that visit is scheduled, we'll let you know. Meantime, check out the Elephant Sanctuary's webpage at

Three investigations are ongoing into charges of animal abuse at the El Paso Zoo. The U. S. Department of Agriculture has completed the first stage of its investigation, according to Dr. W. A. Christensen, Director of the USDA's Animal Care office for the Central Region of the United States, headquarters in Fort Worth. Dr. Christensen said that USDA investigators have collected information regarding alleged mistreatment of Sissy and that the case is currently under Departmental review. He said that the USDA expects to determine a course of action regarding the investigation in the near future. The Department of Agriculture has responsibility for enforcing the Federal Animal Welfare Act which prohibits psychological or physical abuse of animals in handling and training. USDA is the federal agency which licenses any person or entity to exhibit animals before the public. A finding of animal abuse by such exhibitors could result in revocation of that license.

News reports indicate that Mayor Carlos Ramirez has initiated an "administrative" investigation into reported abuse at the Zoo. These reports say that such investigations can result in disciplinary actions against city employees. According to city government sources, the mayor appoints the zoo director with the approval of City Council and can fire the zoo director for cause. The fired director then can appeal his dismissal to City Council.

Last Thursday, a complaint was filed with the El Paso Police Department alleging cruelty to animals and complicity to commit cruelty to animals at the El Paso Zoo. The complaint charged that zoo employees violated Title 9, Chapter 42, Sec. 42.09 and Title 2, Chapter 7, Sec. 7.02 of the Texas Penal Code which prohibits cruelty to animals. Detectives said the investigation probably will be turned over to the Police Department's 'Public Integrity Unit' because the alleged abusers are city employees.

(NOTE: This article is reprinted from the Monday edition, North Texas and the World, and is a feature story entitled, "Elephant Gets the Rodney King Treatment" -- December 6, 1999.)

A former longtime resident of Gainesville's Frank Buck Zoo, Gerry II, (Sissy) a 36-year-old Asian elephant, has been videotaped being savagely beaten by workers at her new home in the El Paso Zoo. The tape shows zoo handlers hitting the chained elephant repeatedly on the back of her legs with wooden bats and/or ax handles during a violent beating session that lasted several hours. If the elephant did not respond to a given command within a few seconds, the beating begans again. Twice she was hit so hard her legs buckled and she fell to the ground.

Gerry II, now known as Sissy, had been formerly blamed and convicted without a trial for the death of a Gainesville, Texas city employee in May of 1997. A still unresolved civil suit was filed against the City of Gainesville by the survivors of the employee and the city has been fined by the USDA in relation to the incident.

Citing an enclosure that was too small for a large animal (and a man at the same time maybe) city officials placed Gerry II in the hands of the Society for Species Preservation who sent the elephant to a temporary home at the Houston Zoo in April of 1998. During her whole time at Gainesville's Frank Buck Zoo, Gerry lived in a very confined space about the size of a three bedroom house.

Shortly after her arrival in Houston, the disoriented and confused elephant again made a long road trip to the El Paso zoo in November of 1998. The now controversial video tape was made soon after her arrival. "We took her in, knowing that she had killed someone and did not have a good reputation." said El Paso Zoo Director, David Zucconi. The director also said that "officials" had ordered the videotape to document the elephant's behavior as she arrived and the procedures of the zoo personal.

Contrary to the statement of Zucconi, the videotape depicting the elelphant beating appears to have been made under slightly different circumstances, like nobody knew the camera was there. Then somehow the tape came to light and people started to ask questions. El Paso Zoo Director Zucconi stated that the zoo policy is to show the animals that the keeper is boss and if negative behavior is shown, keepers are to respond with disciplinary measures.  This statement further endeared him with the animal rights people and the matter was brought to the attention of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Amimals. PETA now has information about the incident on its Web site and calls for the El Paso Zoo to lose its accreditation to exhibit animals and suggests an investigation into animal cruelty charges against zoo officials

The USDA has begun an investigation into the practices of the El Paso Zoo. As fate or karma would have it, El Paso has a $33 million bond issue before the voters to double the size of the zoo. This is an exception to the adage that any press is good press. El Paso mayor Carlos Ramirez complains that he has been swamped with emails from "from around the world." CBS, Extra and RealTV have broadcast excerpts of the video. Police spokesman Terry Chavira said that the department has begun investigating whether the zoo employees who ordered or participated in the elephant beating broke any cruelty-to-animal laws.

Happy ending? Mayor Ramirez has said that the city of El Paso is willing to give up the elephant and put an end to the growing negative national publicity by transferring Gerry/Sissy to The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee as long as the city of El Paso doesn't have to pay any of the transportation costs. The non-profit sanctuary "is the closest thing to freedom there is for captive elephants", Jane Garrison, an elephant specialist who works for PETA, told the city council at a recent meeting. The details of the move are expected to be worked out in time for approval at next Tuesday's El Paso city council meeting.

According to their Web page, "The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, founded in 1995, is the nation's first natural habitat refuge developed specifically for endangered Asian elephants. It operates on 800 acres surrounded by a 3000-acre buffer zone in the town of Hohenwald, Tennessee, 65 miles outside of Nashville. It exist for two reason: 1)To provide a haven for old, sick or needy elephants in a setting of of green pastures, old-growth forests, spring-fed ponds and a heated barn for cold winter nights. 2)To provide education about the crisis facing these social, sensitive, passionately intense, playful, complex, exceedingly intelligent and endangered creatures."

The children of Gainesville originally pooled their pennies to buy Gerry II for the Frank Buck Zoo in Gainesville. The elephant soon gained worldwide attention when the zoo and most of lower Gainesville flooded in October of 1981. Gerry II survived by sticking her trunk above the surging water to stay alive, and was rumored to have climbed a tree. This was the first time Gainesville made CNN, the other flood victims felt somewhat ignored while they hosed mud out of their houses. Gerry II remained a popular and docile attraction in her small cage at the Frank Buck Zoo until the unfortunate 1997 accident and her undeserved title of rogue elephant.

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El Paso Residents Donate to Sissy

January 13, 2000
Last night PAPA's, an establishment in El Paso, held a fund raiser to benefit Sissy. The event asked for a voluntary $5.00 donation from each patron visiting PAPA's. At the end of the evening $1,010 had been raise by an enthusiastic and supportive crowd.

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