Debbie was born wild in Asia in 1971, captured at a young age, shipped to America, and purchased by a circus.
For more than 20 years, Debbie was one of several elephants who performed with the Clyde-Beatty Cole Brothers Circus, a large tent circus that traveled across the U.S. In 1995, as the elephants were being walked through a crowded parking lot to the tent for their performance, Debbie dropped out of line and chased Frieda (another elephant that would eventually find a home at The Sanctuary) through the parking lot and into the window of a Sears building. Both elephants sustained minor cuts. Shortly after this incident, Debbie was sold to the Hawthorn Corporation, a company in Illinois that trained and leased elephants to circuses. Debbie was 25 years old.
In 2006, as a result of USDA prosecutions against the Hawthorn Corporation for violations of the Animal Welfare act involving inadequate care and mistreatment of its elephants, Debbie and seven other Hawthorn elephants were sent to The Sanctuary.
On February 7, 2006, at the age of 35, Debbie arrived with her companion Ronnie, and became the 19th resident of The Elephant Sanctuary. Care Staff noted that Debbie appeared to be the most tentative of the former Hawthorn herd, taking more than an hour to disembark from the transport trailer. Soon her tentativeness subsided, and she was exploring her new home with the herd. After their arrival, Debbie and Ronnie became inseparable. They were easy to identify on the EleCam—Debbie is the tallest Asian elephant at The Sanctuary and Ronnie is the shortest.
During the warmer seasons, Quarantine Habitat Caregivers report seeing signs of Debbie and Ronnie’s nighttime visits to the “South Pond” atop a ridge a half-mile away from the barn. With the arrival of cooler temperatures, Debbie and Ronnie also often make a trip to the pond during the day. They frequently enjoy mud-wallows closer to the barn. The diversity and space of their habitat allows them to choose from several options when they are in the mood for a swim. In the late summer of 2015, after years of closely monitored “play-dates,” Debbie, Minnie, and Ronnie began spending all of their time together. Care Staff noted this as part of the ever-evolving social dynamic between these three elephants.
Debbie is recognizable primarily by her height, but also her uniquely shaped ears, which Caregivers describe as resembling “bat wings.” Staff members have also noticed that Debbie’s ears rarely flap in unison, but rather back and forth, one at a time. Debbie’s back is also much more rounded than that of Minnie and Ronnie.