Shirley’s Story

As I was about to sit down to the computer to write this week’s blog, I happened onto a story that just seemed too good not to share.  It rivals even the blog from a few weeks ago about the giraffes.

Shirley the elephant died last week at age 72.  Hohenwald Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN. had been her home for the past 21 years.  Born in Sumatra and captured for a circus, she had lived through incredible trauma in her long elephant life.  Shirley suffered terrible treatment in the circus.  At one point, she survived a political uprising when she was captured by the forces of Fidel Castro. (Would love to know more about that story!) A car accident that killed two other elephants spared her.  When a circus ship she was on caught fire and nearly sank, she was badly burned and lost part of an ear. 

After a broken leg in 1974, she was sold to the Louisiana Purchase Zoo and Garden.  Sadly there, she was kept without any other elephants for 22 years.  But her arrival in the Hohenwald Elephant Sanctuary in 1999 brought about a marvelous serendipity:  she was reunited with an elephant named Jenny who had  been in the same circus as Shirley.  The two were joyous in their reunion and were inseparable until Jenny’s death in 2006. 

My husband Terry and I stopped at the sanctuary some years back, thinking we might view the elephants.  However, no viewing of the elephants is allowed there.  They now have the addition of an educational center. They also have an “Ele Cam” by which videos of the elephants can be viewed.  There are other sanctuaries set up to meet ethical standards which do allow interaction with the elephants.   

 Due to poaching, habitat loss, human-elephant conflict (as human populations increase and elephants are forced into greater proximity to human settlements), and mistreatment in captivity, elephants are predicted to become extinct unless efforts are made to avert that outcome. We could make the choice to exert those efforts. But will we?

 As Shirley’s story illustrates: “Animals are reliable, many full of love, true in their affections, predictable in their actions, grateful and loyal. Difficult standards for people to live up to.Alfred Armand Montapert

May we be bearers of hope, the “wait staff” of Hope’s Café for each other and all those we encounter (to include animals!) Shalom, Kate

Hope’s Café Bonus: Various foundations are addressing the problems elephants face. To learn more, perhaps to donate, visit