There’s a saying that elephants never forget and the following story seems to prove that.
It begins when Shirley, a retired circus elephant, is driven to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. The sanctuary was only 110 acres when it was first created but eventually grew to encompass 2,300 acres. It survives with the help of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.
Shirley’s longtime circus caretaker is sad to see her go but he’s happy that she’s finally free.
There was a tense moment when staff and reporters waited to see how Shirley would react to the other “residents” of the sanctuary. But Shirley gladly greeted the first elephant she saw and that’s when everyone knew that she’d be alright.
But that was not the most remarkable thing that happened. Another retired circus elephant named Jenny was the last elephant to return to their enclosure and throughout the night the staff could hear hoots and elephant calls.
The next morning, they were surprised to see that Shirley and Jenny had bent the steel fence separating them in their effort to be beside each other. After one of the staff managed to get the gate open, the two immediately hugged and hit it off.
It turns out that Shirley and Jenny were together in the same circus close two twenty-five years ago. Shirley was a 20-year-old elephant at the time while Jenny was just a calf. Jenny eventually got sent to Southeast Asia before making it to the sanctuary when she was retired from the circus.
Jenny must have seen Shirley as some sort of adoptive mother and for both of them, they were each the closest thing to family that they had. To be reunited even after more than two decades apart must have been a joyous homecoming for the pair.
They can be seen just enjoying their time together in the pasture, just hugging and perhaps, in elephant speak, catching up with each other.
It’s easy to make the mistake of thinking that only humans can feel love, compassion, or empathy. But the story of Shirley and Jenny is a remarkable display of affection that is rarely documented between elephants.