Shirley was born in 1948. At age five, she was captured from the wilds of Asia and purchased by Dori Miller, owner of Carson and Barnes and Kelly Miller Circuses. In 1958, while the Kelly-Miller circus was traveling through Cuba, Fidel Castro seized power. Shirley and the entire circus was held captive by Castro’s forces for several weeks before finally being released.
In 1963, the circus traveled by ship to Nova Scotia and was docked at Yarmouth Harbor when a fire broke out in the engine room. This incident caused the ship to sink, killing two animals. Shirley was rescued, but not before sustaining severe burns on her back and legs. Today she is missing a large section of her right ear as result of the fire and has several scars on her back, side, and feet.
At the age of 27, while performing for the Lewis Brothers Circus, Shirley was attacked by another elephant. Her right hind leg was broken. It healed poorly and is the cause of her limp. After two more years performing in the circus, Shirley was sold to the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo in Monroe, LA where she was the sole elephant for 22 years.
On July 6,1999, Shirley became the fourth resident of The Elephant Sanctuary, joining Tarra, Jenny, and Barbara. At The Sanctuary, Shirley experienced a very loving reunion with Jenny. Research showed the two elephants had been in the same circus 23 years earlier! This memorable event is the subject of an Emmy-winning National Geographic documentary “The Urban Elephant.”
For the next seven years, the two elephants were inseparable in a relationship resembling one of a mother and daughter. During this time, Shirley also emerged as the matriarch of the “Founding Herd,” a leadership role reserved for the most respected and admired elephant in the group. Jenny died in 2006. After a short time, Shirley was seen spending time with Tarra, and also with Winkie and Sissy.
Today Shirley travels all over the Asia habitat, meeting up with members of the herd. Shirley walks slowly and stiffly but she is remarkably capable of covering significant areas. She walks in mud wallows and traverses hilly terrain, as well as rolling hills. Shirley spends a lot of time with Tarra, traveling “Oak Tree Pasture,” “Turtle Pond,” “Left Field,” and even wading in the lake, over a mile away from the barn. Shirley is the oldest elephant at The Elephant Sanctuary and the third oldest Asian elephant in North America. Shirley is easily recognizable by the cut out on her right ear and crooked back leg.