Saturday, April 5, 2014

Elephant Sanctuary-Hohenwald-Tennessee

If Shirley Could Talk...

If Shirley could talk, what a story would she tell?  Would she remember her family in Sumatra?  Would she tell of hardship and about the fire on a ship that she escaped from?  Would she carry anger at the humans that ripped her from her family, that made her perform most of her life that deprived her of the company of other elephants?  Shirley has had a whirlwind of a life.  From being caught in the wilds of Sumatra to ending at her forever home here at TES, her life has been a true inspiration of perseverance.

Shirley, now ~66 years of age, now lives in Hohenwald, Tennessee, at a The Elephant Sanctuary (TES) with large acreage of land where she has green grass under her feet and a warm barn to sleep in at night.  Several years ago she was reunited with Jenny, another performing elephant after 22 years apart.  Shirley and Jenny were together at a circus when Jenny was just a calf and Shirley in her 20ties, her surrogate mother for a short time.  When they were reunited in Hohenwald, the remarkable reunion was documented – you can see the video here – and now they inseparable while they live out their life at the sanctuary.

Below is the biography of Shirley with all its twist and turns.  But only recently, her remarkable rescue from a burning ship in Nova Scotia surfaced with the pictures taken in 1963 - more than 50 year ago.  A truly remarkable story of her life of perseverance at the hand of humans.

As I contemplate how we humans treat these highly intelligent and sensitive elephants in captivity under often the most unnatural conditions, we need to ask ourselves what rights do we have to impose such a life?  With excellent documentaries – films – videos available, with increased travel to the lands and forests that elephants call their home, it is time to stop keeping elephants and large wildlife species captive and abuse them just for the entertainment of our human species.

I invite you to read the below biography of Shirley and to watch the remarkable video of Shirley’s and Jenny’s reunion here.

Jenny, at TES



Born: 1948
Birthplace: Sumatra
Birth status: wild born

• Captured from the wild: 1953
• Life before the Sanctuary: performed for twenty-four years with the Carson and Barnes Circus, then lived at the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo for another twenty-two years
• Reason for coming to the Sanctuary: crippled and living alone
• Shirley moved to the Elephant Sanctuary July 6, 1999

Height: Nearly 9 feet
Favorite Food: Apples

Shirley is our oldest elephant, wild caught in Sumatra over fifty years ago.
Her back right leg was broken thirty years ago when she was attacked by a fellow circus elephant. She is missing a large section of her right ear as result of a fire which not only injured her ear but also left several scars on her back, side and feet.

Hohenwald, Tennessee (June 9, 1999) - Shirley, a rare Asian elephant who has spent most of her life entertaining audiences all over the world, will retire July 6 to the Elephant Sanctuary, the nationally renowned, natural-habitat pachyderm refuge located in Hohenwald, TN.

"We're overjoyed that after such a storied career Shirley will be joining our other elephants," said Carol Buckley, founder and executive director of The Elephant Sanctuary. "Yet, making way for her arrival will be both emotionally and financially demanding."

"The transport and care of an elephant like Shirley doesn't come cheap" she adds. "We'll need the help of our supporters and volunteers, as well as new sources, to provide a seamless transition to this new chapter of Shirley's life."

Shirley was fifty-one when she was retired to The Elephant Sanctuary. She has quite a colorful past. At age five, she was captured from the wilds of Asia and was purchased by the Kelly–Miller Circus. In 1958, while the circus was traveling through Cuba, Fidel Castro seized power. Shirley and the entire circus were held captive by Castro's forces for several weeks before being set free. Unfortunately that was not the end of Shirley's saga. A few years later, her circus ship was docked in Nova Scotia, when a fire broke out in the engine room. This incident caused the ship to sink, killing two animals. Luckily, Shirley was rescued without harm.

Story and photos about the ship fire in Nova Scotia.  -- Pl scroll below!

In 1975, at age twenty-eight, while performing for the Lewis Brothers Circus, Shirley was attacked by another elephant. Her right hind leg was seriously broken. It was not set and healed poorly, causing everyday life to be somewhat difficult. Regardless of her injury Shirley was forced to perform in the circus for nearly two more years before being sold to the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo in Monroe, LA.

Usually female elephants live in-groups, but for safety concerns related to her injury, Shirley was kept apart and lived alone at the zoo for twenty-two years. According to the Sanctuary Founding Director Carol Buckley, the Zoo was generous to Shirley by providing her with a loving environment, but the time came when the Zoo felt Shirley could lead a healthier life in a natural habitat. That is when the Zoo contacted The Elephant Sanctuary.

"We knew we could trust The Elephant Sanctuary to offer Shirley the kind of life she deserves," explained The Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo Director, Jake Yelverton. "It was in Shirley's best interest to retire her to a place that was more suitable."

"It goes to show after everything Shirley has been through, what survivors these animals really are," said Buckley.

Shirley moved to the Sanctuary July 6, 1999 joining Tarra, Jenny and Barbara, the three residents.

September 9, 2003
This dear note was sent by a three year old after he met Shirley on our site.
Dear Shirley:
I will give you ice cream on a plate.
I will give you one motorcycle. ONLY ONE!
I will kiss you on your ear.

Love Cyrus

Shirley at TES

[ Ref:]

Story and photos about the ship fire in Nova Scotia.

Story and photos about the ship fire in Nova Scotia.

Shirley — A Place in History
Shirley was one of dozens of circus animals rescued from a vessel destroyed by fire in Yarmouth harbour.
We are grateful to Bob Brooks/Yarmouth County Museum Archives, 
Nova Scotia, Canada for these photographs.

Shirley, on the left, shares a bucket of water

Residents never forgot elephants

One of three pachyderms that are part of Yarmouth folklore has been located: Shirley, last survivor
September 19, 2001 - Richard Foot, National Post

HALIFAX - For thirty-eight years the people of Yarmouth, N.S., have been talking about elephants—pecifically three Asian elephants who came to town on board a circus ship in 1963, and were rescued from the vessel when it was destroyed by fire in Yarmouth harbour.

The animals were marched from the ship through groups of gawking fishermen and awestruck onlookers. Firemen rescued tigers, llamas and leopards, too, but it's the fate of the elephants that has long intrigued the locals.  After the fire, dozens of the exotic animals were loaded on to trucks and driven back toward Florida, home of the Kelly and Miller Bros. Circus.  En-route, the trailer carrying the elephants crashed, and news reached Yarmouth that the pachyderms who survived the fire had perished on the highway.

"That's the last we heard," says Laura Bradley, archivist at the Yarmouth County Museum, who says the tale of the three elephants has remained a popular part of Yarmouth folklore.

Today, however, the tale has changed. Ms. Bradley has learned that one of the beasts from the 1963 fire is alive at an elephant refuge in the deep, verdant woods of western Tennessee.  Her name is Shirley—she is an old and haggard creature—but her existence and whereabouts have electrified the staff at the Yarmouth museum.

"I was surprised and thrilled to know she had survived," says Ms. Bradley. "I had written those elephants off when I read they'd been in a road accident. I felt it was the end of their story. But now the story lives on." 

Shirley (on the left) on board the ship

Yarmouth historians and staff at The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Ten., are eager to swap notes. The museum has archival photographs of Shirley's dramatic rescue from the circus ship; the sanctuary has the remaining details of Shirley's extraordinary life.  Says Carol Buckley, director of the sanctuary: "The museum has a booklet on the fire and photographs -- I'm very anxious to get any of that, it's part of Shirley's history."

News of Shirley reached Yarmouth through the Internet when a museum volunteer received a message from someone who had stumbled across the Web site of The Elephant Sanctuary.
The sanctuary claimed it had an old elephant that once survived a ship fire in Nova Scotia.
"I went to the Web site," says Ms. Bradley, "and when I read Shirley's story, I sobbed."
The elephant's biography, pieced together by the sanctuary from a succession of zoo and circus owners, says Shirley was taken from the wild as a calf and sold to the Kelly-Miller circus. For the next 25 years she trained and travelled across North America, often in wretched conditions, entertaining crowds under the big top. She was in Havana in 1958 when Fidel Castro seized power.

In June, 1963, the circus loaded Shirley and a menagerie of other animals on a cramped and ramshackle steamship, the Fleurus, for a summer tour up the East Coast of Canada. After three harrowing weeks at sea, the Fleurus reached Yarmouth, first stop on the tour.

The ship sinks

Bob Brooks, a celebrated Canadian photographer who started his career in Yarmouth, recorded the visit with photographs and a diary that remain in the care of Ms. Bradley.  "He went on board when the ship arrived," she says. "It was listing badly to starboard, there were rotting chickens being fed to the carnivores, the place was full of flies and dung. The elephants were chained and struggling to stand straight on the tilting ship. Bob said they looked poorly."

The next day a parade of animals -- elephants, bears, llamas, zebras, lions, and cheetahs -- performed for the curious in a nearby field. After the show they were caged back up on the Fleurus, where a fire broke out in the engine room. There was a desperate effort by firefighters to release the live cargo from the ship, while local hunters stood guard with rifles in case an unruly animal bolted into the town.
"The sight of elephants, zebras and the leopard being walked along the wharf, with the chaos of the fire in the background, is something that Yarmouthians have never forgotten," says Ms. Bradley.
Brooks' photographs of the event made a two-page spread in the Toronto Star's weekend magazine.
The circus tour was abandoned and the stranded animals were eventually trucked back to the United States.  Although the elephant trailer did crash in a traffic accident, at least one of the elephants obviously survived.

Ms. Buckley says Shirley toiled in circuses until 1977, when another elephant attacked her and broke her hind leg.  Now a cripple, she was transferred to a Louisiana zoo, where she lived the next 22 years alone in a small, solitary compound, allowed not a breath of contact with her fellow kind.

In 1999, the zookeepers sent her to The Elephant Sanctuary, a private, 300-hectare haven established especially for sick or unwanted, female elephants.  When Shirley arrived there, she was 52, on the brink of old-age. Today she wanders freely and keeps the company of six other cow elephants, including Jenny, a younger animal Shirley first met in a circus barn.

Last year National Geographic featured Shirley in The Urban Elephant, a TV documentary on captive pachyderms.  Ms. Buckley says producers may want to do a follow-up program, after learning about the rich new details of the Yarmouth fire.

As for Ms. Bradley, she says she now has a complete and happy ending to add to the strange story of the circus ship that caught fire in Yarmouth harbor.  "Shirley is a symbol of hope," she says. "Every time I see an animal in a circus, I think maybe they, too, will have a happy ending and find their sanctuary."

The Fleurus was the last circus ship ever to reach Yarmouth. In 1997, the town became the first in Nova Scotia to ban all circuses, traveling by land or sea, with exotic animals in tow. Although at least four circuses still tour Canada each year with elephant acts, twenty-five other municipalities across the country—in British Columbia, Quebec and Newfoundland—no longer welcome them to town.

[Ref:  Bob Brooks/Yarmouth County Museum Archives]

 What a remarkable story!  

Til next time,