Circus elephants separated for 22 years meet again, and video shows their tearful reunion

It is said that elephants never forget, but will they remember an old friend after 22 years?

The Elephant Sanctuary was founded in 1995 to provide a shelter to circus and zoo elephants on 110 acres of free-range in Hohenwald, Tennessee. Since then, the Sanctuary has offered shelter to numerous animals in the last 23 years, but none are more memorable than Shirley and Jenny.

Shirley is an Asian elephant who had lived her entire life in captivity, first as a circus elephant, then as a denizen in a Zoo in Louisiana where she lived as the institution's sole pachyderm for 20 lonely years.

Then Shirley was relocated to the Tennessee Sanctuary, where a reunion with a long lost friend would go viral on YouTube/EVOLVE Campaigns and garner over 23,000,000 views.

Source: YouTube/EVOLVE Campaigns

Source: YouTube/EVOLVE Campaigns


When Shirley was brought to the Sanctuary, she was 51 years old and had spent the last 20 years of her life alone, with no contact with members of her species. She had been in a fire, a shipwreck and her back right leg was crippled.

Her only friend was her caretaker at the Louisianna Zoo, Solomon, who traveled with her to help her settle in. He too was anxious about how Shirley would react to the presence of other elephants.

Source: YouTube/EVOLVE Campaigns

Source: YouTube/EVOLVE Campaigns


Shirley was placed in the Sanctuary's elephant barn and was having a snack when the first of the rescued elephants, Tara walked in. She was the first elephant Shirley had seen in 20 years, and the two immediately greeted each other by lovingly entwining trunks.

Source: YouTube/EVOLVE Campaigns

Source: YouTube/EVOLVE Campaigns


But there was a special surprise in store for Shirley. Decades before, she had been working in a circus when they purchased a new adolescent elephant called Jenny, whom Shirley befriended. The two were to be reunited once more, and their emotional meeting would spawn an Emmy-award winning documentary.

Source: YouTube/EVOLVE Campaigns

Source: YouTube/EVOLVE Campaigns


They were placed in contiguous enclosures separated by iron bars, a necessity, since confused and frightened rescued elephants can sometimes lash out at each other. But Shirley and Jenny spent the night hugging each other, and in their eagerness to be together, bent the iron bars that divided them.

From that moment on, the two old friends were inseparable, until Jenny passed away in 2006. Shirley, now 70-years-old, is the mathriarch of the Sanctuary's little herd, and a loving protector of every newcomer, just as she once was for Jenny.


How powerful the emotional bonds in an elephant herd really are was illustrated by a video clip captured by a tourist visiting a natural preserve in South Africa.

The man was lucky enough to see and film an elephant giving birth, but what he was to witness next was even more extraordinary.

The female elephant delivered her calf in the pouring rain, and quickly the rest of the herd gathered around. One by one, the members of the herd gently touched the tiny calf with their trunks, bidding him welcome to the family, and offering him their protection.

Just like Shirley and Jenny, these elephants will be bonded for life, and never forget each other, even oif life separates them for 20 years. 

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