Shirley the elephant dies after more than two decades at Tennessee Sanctuary

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HOHENWALD, Tenn. (WKRN) – One of the oldest elephants in North America passed away in Tennessee this week.

Shirley called The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee home since 1999. She moved there after spending 24 years in the circus and another 22 years as the sole elephant at the Louisiana Purchase Zoo and Gardens in Monroe, LA.

At 72-years-old, Shirley defied all odds as one of the oldest elephants in captivity. Officials with the sanctuary say she lived well beyond the life expectancy for a captive Asian elephant. At the time she died, Shirley held the record for the second oldest elephant in North America.

News 2’s Alex Corradetti featured Shirley in a special report in July of 2020.

Shirley was born in Sumatra in 1948 and survived capture by Fidel Castro’s forces as well as a highway accident that killed two other elephants.

Over the last few weeks, veterinary teams closely monitored Shirleys condition and began to observe some changes in her mobility.

Staff worked around the clock to check on Shirley and make sure she was receiving the best care. On Monday morning, staff say Shirley died peacefully in her sleep, surrounded by her caregivers.

“The Sanctuary is deeply honored to have provided care for Shirley for 21 years. We thank Shirley’s many supporters, fans, and friends who have shared her story, who have loved her from afar, and who have partnered with us through the years to provide lifetime care and the opportunity for Shirley to know true companionship with other elephants. We learned so much about the dignity and grace of elephants aging in captivity through caring for Shirley, and we will continue to apply this knowledge to help care for all current and future residents. Shirley leaves an enduring legacy marked by a truly remarkable life, and she will be deeply missed by all,” said Janice Zeitlin, CEO of The Elephant Sanctuary.

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