The Ringling Bros. 13 touring circus elephants can now look forward to an early retirement. Previously though, many ex-circus elephants in North America would end up in lonely zoo exhibits. Shirley was one of those sad elephants. But hers is the most incredibly heartwarming ending.
Her keeper, Solomon James, had lovingly cared for her at the zoo for over 22 years after an accident at the circus she’d worked at for 30 years left her crippled. He says he would just spend time with her in her enclosure so she wouldn’t feel so alone—but Shirley had not seen another elephant in over 20 years.
In the video we travel with James and Shirley to her new home at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.
“I don’t know who was the first to put a chain on her, but I’m glad because I was ready to take it off, I am the last to take it off,” James said at his emotional good-bye. “I know she’s going to be happy here. No more chains. She’s free now.”
Then the most remarkable thing happened.
One by one the resident elephants were ushered in to meet Shirley. They’d reach their trunks through the bars and caress each other, meeting and greeting, but when one elephant named Jenny came in, there was a huge uproar of excitement.
This is an excerpt from an ebook edition of Karen Dawn’s Thanking The Monkey.
“Carol says she has never heard anything like it. The trumpeting goes on through the night. When Carol comes into the barn the next morning she finds that in their desperation to get close to each other, Jenny and Shirley have bent the steel bars between them.
“Carol did some research into their backgrounds and found that 30 years earlier they had worked together in the same circus. Jenny was just a baby, and Shirley would have been like a surrogate mother.
“At the sanctuary they became inseparable. We see them walking, resting, and bathing together.”
Lonely male elephants can get very emotional too.