Shirley, now 52, was just 5 years old when she was captured in her homeland and torn from her family. This Asian elephant was sold to the Kelly- Miller Circus, which forced her to perform for 25 years. In 1958, she and the entire circus were detained for weeks by Fidel Castro’s forces in Cuba. Several years later, she narrowly escaped death when she was evacuated just before the circus ship she was on caught fire and sank while docked in Nova Scotia.
In 1977, Shirley suffered a permanent leg injury from an attack by another elephant that ended her life with the circus. The Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo took Shirley. Fearing that her injury might put her at risk with the other elephants, they kept intelligent, social Shirley in solitary confinement for the next 22 years.
Then the Louisiana zoo curator learned about the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, the nation’s only natural-habitat refuge for Asian elephants.
At the time, the sanctuary was home to three other Asian elephants, Tarra, Barbara and Jenny. He contacted the sanctuary, which agreed to take Shirley, and arrangements were made for her journey to the safe haven.
When Shirley arrived at the sanctuary, she was scared to leave the trailer. But at last, she decided to back her way out of it, and the last chain she would ever wear was removed from her leg. Few of the onlookers could hold back their tears.
After a snack of fresh fruits and veggies, a cooling shower and rest, Shirley met Tarra, who gently inspected her injuries. They intertwined their trunks and “purred.” Then the gates to the barn were opened so that Shirley could explore her new surroundings. It took several hours for her to muster up the courage to step outside.
That evening, Jenny returned to the barn and discovered the newcomer-and an amazing thing happened. Jenny and Shirley frantically touched each other with their trunks and then began trumpeting together. Twenty-two years earlier, when Shirley was 30 and Jenny was just a baby, they had spent one winter together in the same circus. Although so much time had passed, they recognized each other instantly. Shirley and Jenny are inseparable now. Shirley is very protective, much like a mother watching over her daughter. After more than two decades apart, Jenny and Shirley will be together forever.
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