The elephant’s temporal lobe (the area of the brain associated with memory) is larger and denser than that of people – hence the saying ‘elephants never forget’. With their brain weighing an average of 5 kilograms, they have a lot of memory space for their remarkable experiences.
Two circus elephants reunited after 22 years of separation. The two elephants has shown the world that just like humans, they are, indeed, capable of remembering and feeling.
Shirley, who had suf.fe.red se.ve.re b.u rns after surviving a s.in.king ship and was left with a permanently in.j ured leg from an a.tt.ack by another circus elephant. After enduring all that, she was sold to the zoo. She was in her enclosure, just big enough for one elephant, for more than 20 years.
The 12-minute film by Allison Argo was made for National Geographic and PBS’s Nature Series. In the documentary, after hours of traveling, Shirley, an ex-circus elephant who was taken in by the Louisiana Purchase Zoo after a long stint in a travelling circus.
“Shirley hasn’t seen another of her kind for over two decades.” – Said Argo. “Her keeper Solomon James tries to meet her needs in this man-made world but he knows he’ll never be a substitute for one vital thing: the company of other elephants. Solomon does what he can, but he knows it’s not enough.”
Unbeknownst to Shirley, waiting at the sanctuary is an old friend of hers whom she did not see for more than 2 decades, Jenny. During Shirley’s first night at the sanctuary in the barn, the pair bent the steel bars between them to get closer. And even though all that time had passed, they still recognised each other. The two are snuggling close to each other.
When they were let out the next morning, they walked around together as old friends.
As it turned out, Jenny and Shirley are two elephants who were for.ced and a.b.used to perform in a circus. Jenny was brought from Asia as an infant elephant, and so Shirley became her maternal figure in the foreign place she was forced in.
The two were inseparable. Shirley quickly assumed the role of surrogate mother to Jenny, who, though now an adult, had been a baby when they first met at the circus. Their bond was so intense, it would forever change life at the sanctuary. As Carol Buckley, Executive Director of the Sanctuary describes it, ‘that was the love that started our elephant family.’ “After Shirley’s arrival, elephants who had previously been companions and friends were now sisters and aunts in the mother and daughter relationship of Shirley and Jenny. They gave the sanctuary its future,” says Carol. These strong bonds would soon be needed.
“Jenny was born wild in Sumatra in 1972 and captured at a young age. As a young calf, she spent one winter (1973) with a circus that also owned an elephant named Shirley, a brief relationship that would prove to be significant years later. At 20 years of age, after repeatedly running away from her trainers during circus performances, Jenny was sent to the Hawthorn Corporation in Illinois for br.ee.ding, where she sustained a serious in.jur.y to her left hind leg caused by a bull elephant. Jenny received no treatment, but instead was reportedly put on pain killers and exposed repeatedly to the breeding bull. Due to this, she walked with a l.im.p.
In March 1993, almost one year after Jenny’s in.jur.y, she was declared “useless” as a breeder. She was sold to a small circus and traveled throughout the United States for the next two years. Competing for food with the other elephants and trying to balance herself in the moving trailer soon took its toll on Jenny’s already fr.a.g.ile condition. She d ete rio rated to the point where loading in and out of the trailer was nearly impossible. As a result, Jenny was left inside the elephant trailer most of the time.
In April 1995, Jenny’s owner left her at a small animal shelter outside of Las Vegas. She was discovered se.ve.rely u.nder.weight, not using her in.ju.red leg, and su.f fering from de.ge.ner.ative foot di.s.ease. Jenny’s situation did not improve at the shelter. Jenny was exposed to below-freezing weather and put in chains at night due to inadequate facilities. Because of her untreated leg in.jur.y and foot d.is.ease, Jenny continued to put little weight on her leg and received no veterinarary treatment for her condition. During that time, 20/20 did a piece on captive elephants, and Jenny was included in the story. The footage documented Jenny standing in feces, underweight, living in inadequate facilities, cared for by keepers with little elephant experience, with very little hope of change.
Amazingly, on July 22, 1996, Jenny’s owners contacted The Sanctuary. On September 11, Jenny arrived at the Sanctuary, becoming its third resident. It took some adjusting, but Jenny soon acclimated herself to The Sanctuary lifestyle and her new herd.
One July evening three years later, Jenny returned to the barn to discover that a new elephant arrived. She seemed very anxious to meet the new resident, but it was soon realized that her intense emotional reaction to Shirley was much more than a casual greeting—it was a reunion! For the next seven years, Shirley and Jenny were inseparable, sharing a deep affection much like a mother/daughter relationship.” – https://www.elephants.com/
Sadly, on October 17, 2006, ten years after arriving at the sanctuary, Jenny d.i ed.
Carol says the bond between Shirley and Jenny was never more touching than in the last days of Jenny’s life. “The day before she d.i ed, Jenny had been down and she wouldn’t get up. Shirley stood by her and insisted that Jenny get up. Jenny just couldn’t get up. Then Jenny stood up but she had to lean on Shirley to keep up. If you looked at Shirley’s face, you could see that she knew that Jenny was d.y.ing. Jenny dropped to the ground and Shirley walked into the woods.”
Jenny was on her d e.a t.hbed when Shirley walked to the woods but she would give Carol and the sanctuary caregivers the privilege of one last incredible glimpse into the world of elephants before she d.i ed. “After Shirley left, Jenny started to make this rumbling noise. With each exhalation, she would rumble. It was almost like a singing. As Jenny did this, Bunny and Tara (two sanctuary elephants) came running over. We thought that was it and she was going to d.i e. And then Bunny and Tara started trumpeting and rumbling. At a certain point, I turned to Scott (Director of The Elephant Sanctuary) and I asked him how long this was going on. He said 58 minutes! Well, she continued for another two hours. Jenny lived through the night and was even perky and silly. She pa.s.sed in the morning. And when she d.i ed, she did a vocalization that I had never heard. It was like a trumpet. It was very low and got quieter and quieter. She passed very peacefully without straining or exerting herself. To experience this ritual was amazing. I had never seen anything like it.”
Shirley stayed in the woods until Jenny p.as.sed. She didn’t eat for two days. “It was very hard and especially hard on Shirley. Shirley’s whole life was about taking care of baby Jenny. It was like a mom l.osing her baby.”
Fortunately, Shirley has had some extended family members to lean on during the sad times. Shirley is very close with an elephant named Bunny — the two are like sisters. Bunny arrived to the sanctuary just two months after Shirley and they bonded instantly.
Carol says Jenny’s d e.a t.h was difficult for the elephants but they are recovering. The healing process may have been sped up by a new elephant, Misty, who has come in from a different area of the sanctuary. “She’s a very happy creature. She loves all elephants. She just runs around. And they love her. She’s a ball of happy energy.”
Shirley, however, is still living on and has gone on to become a bit of a grandmother to the sanctuary herd. She’s regarded as one of the most respected and admired elephants in the group.
Shirley and Jenny help us realize that just like us, animals have a big heart that can be hurt, that can feel joy, that can long for, and that can feel and give love!