I recently met another “Shirley.” Actually, I didn’t meet her in person, I learned about her while surfing the internet. I don’t remember how I found the site that tells about her. I do know, though, that I wasn’t looking for “Shirleys.” One computer entry after another and I began to read about her. She has lived a rather extraordinary life. But before we begin her story, I want to tell you a few facts I know about her.
Shirley stands nine feet tall and weighs 8,180 pounds. By now, I’m sure you’ve guessed that she is an elephant. Why anyone would name an elephant, Shirley, I can’t
imagine. She was a circus performer, so I wondered if someone may have named her after another performer, Shirley Temple. She was born in Sumatra, Indonesia, in 1948 and was captured in the wild in 1953. She became the property of the Kelly and Miller Bros. Circus. That makes her 67 years old. I wanted to mention her age because the readers of last week’s Shirl and You seemed disappointed to read of the short lifespan of the average white-tailed deer.
Shirley is a survivor. During a succession of zoo and circus owners, she became a traveler. In 1963, she was on board a circus ship that caught fire while docked at Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. She was among the three Asian elephants that were rescued from the vessel. She, along with rescued tigers. lamas and leopards are remembered as marching through the town to safety. Two animals were killed in the incident. The survivors were loaded on trucks and driven to the United States. It’s reported that during this trip the elephant trailer was in a traffic accident. It wasn’t until recent years that the residents of Yarmouth learned that one of the elephants from the circus ship, still survives.
While entertaining audiences all over the world, Shirley spent 24 years of her life with the Carson and Barnes Circus. As a side note, she was in Havana, Cuba, in 1958, when Fidel Castro seized power. She and the entire circus were held captive, for several weeks, before being set free.
Unfortunately at age 28, while performing for the Lewis Brothers Circus. she was
attacked by a bull elephant and her hind leg was seriously broken. It didn’t heal properly, leaving everyday life somewhat difficult for her. She was then sold to the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo in Monroe, LA. For twenty two years she lived there. Usually, female elephants live in groups but because of her injury she lived alone, kept apart from other elephants. Her keeper, Solomon James, helped provide a loving environment for her, until the zoo decided she would lead a healthier life in a natural habitat. That’s when they contacted “The Elephant Sanctuary,” in Hohenwald, TN. No visitors/tourists there means the elephants can live their lives as elephants. They are provided with heated barns, but many elephants choose to sleep/live outside and wander the acreage. Shirley is now bonding with other elephants and is free to roam in open fields.
Her story does not end here. What was once a dismal life for Shirley, is now changed.
Another memorial day was when Jenny, another crippled elephant entered the sanctuary. Twenty-two years ago, Shirley had acted as a surrogate mother to Jenny. It was an intense and unforgettable meeting between the two former circus elephants.
Shirley is featured in a TV documentary, “The Urban Elephant,” produced by National Geographic. It tells the story of captive pachyderms.The meeting between old friends, Shirley and Jenny, is featured in the film.. After viewing it, most people will be convinced that we humans really underestimate the intelligence and emotions of animals.
Shirley’s life story continues. Although Jenny is no longer living, she is very close with an elephant named Bunny. Now I ask, “who would name an elephant, Bunny?” Sounds like another story, doesn’t it?