The oldest resident of the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, will celebrate a milestone birthday tomorrow. Shirley the Asian elephant turns 70, which is monumentally old! The average lifespan for an Asian elephant in captivity is 42 years. Average lifespan for a captive African elephant is 47 years.
Shirley, who was reportedly born in Sumatra in 1948, was captured at the age of five; she was sold to Carson and Barnes and Kelly Miller Circuses, a traveling circus, and performed for more than 20 years. Circus life was not fun and games for Shirley. In 1958, while touring Cuba, she and her circus companions were held captive by Fidel Castro’s forces for more than a week. Then, in 1963, Shirley was burned in a fire on board a ship bound for Nova Scotia.
After leaving the circus, Shirley spent 22 years at the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo in Monroe, Louisiana, before retiring to the Elephant Sanctuary . According to the Elephant Sanctuary website’s timeline, she arrived in Lewis County, Tennessee, July 6, 1999.
The Elephant Sanctuary is honoring Shirley on her big day with an elephantine snack – a numeral “70” made out of bamboo and held together and decorated with produce and flowers. They’re also using the social-media hashtag #ShirleyTurns70 to mark the occasion.
In 2003, the Elephant Sanctuary expanded to 2,700 acres; it is the largest natural-habitat refuge for captive elephants in North America. In 2015, the Sanctuary celebrated its 20th anniversary; and last year, it received certification by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.