A Tale of Two Shirleys

A Tale of Two Shirleys

Two elephants named Shirley currently living in the U.S. were both captured from the wild in Asia in the 1940s and have both endured decades of pain and exploitation in circuses. The only major difference between them is that one Shirley has found happiness and is now living in a sanctuary in the company of other elephants, while the other Shirley sadly lives all alone at an amusement park.

One Shirley arrived at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee in 1999. Her life leading up to this point was traumatic. After being captured from the wild in 1948 at only five years of age, she was purchased by a circus owner. After nearly 30 years of forced performances, a zoo in Louisiana agreed to take her in, but this was before the social requirements of elephants were fully understood. Sadly, Shirley spent over two decades in social isolation, not seeing another elephant at all during those long years. After the zoo decided it couldn’t provide the proper social life she deserved, Shirley was sent to The Elephant Sanctuary, where she reunited with Jenny, another elephant she’d lived with in a circus 23 years earlier. Their touching reunion is captured in this film.


The other Shirley is the only elephant at the Wild Adventures Theme Park in Georgia, a facility featured on our 10 Worst Zoos for Elephants list in 2018. Born in 1944 in Sri Lanka, she was captured as a baby and brought to the U.S. in 1946.. For the next 46 years of her life, Shirley was passed from circus to circus — nearly ten of them — including the infamous Ringling Brothers Circus. Shirley eventually ended up at Wild Adventures a quarter of a century ago, and has been there ever since. Shirley’s last elephant companion died in 2011, leaving her to endure solitary confinement going on nine years now. 

Shirley at abusement park wearing a birthday hat.

Keeping elephants alone in barren enclosures is a cruelty beyond comprehension. The Shirley who is stuck at Wild Adventures can’t use human words to give voice to her incredible sadness and loneliness. But the video of the other Shirley’s reunion with her old friend at The Elephant Sanctuary speaks far louder than words. Both Shirleys deserve lives of privacy, relative freedom, and company — all elephants do. It’s time for Wild Adventures to recognize this and for its management to do the right thing by sending Shirley to an accredited sanctuary. 

To learn more about how zoos are harming elephants, and what we’re doing to help, check out the latest news and alerts about elephants.

You Can Support This Campaign By Donating