An elephant sanctuary in Tennessee is celebrating on Saturday the 71st birthday of what they say is one of the oldest elephants in captivity in the United States.
Shirley was born on the island of Sumatra in 1948. She was captured, and performed in a traveling circus in the U.S. for more than 20 years before retiring to the Louisiana Purchase Zoo and Gardens for 22 years. She arrived at the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee in 1999.
Volunteer and Outreach Manager Todd Montgomery said upon Shirley’s arrival one of the elephants, named Jenny, immediately recognized Shirley. He says the two had performed with each other in the circus.
“She got really excited and trumpeted and was running around in circles,” Montgomery said. “These two elephants absolutely seemed really, really excited to see one another, almost happy.”
Montgomery said healthy Asian elephants in captivity typically live into their 40s or early 50s and the oldest elephants in the country are in their early to mid-seventies. He said Shirley’s age is “above and beyond” the normal life expectancy.
Caretakers are celebrating by baking her a vegan birthday cake. “I don’t know what the ingredients will be but I’d be willing to guess, it’d probably be some combination of bananas, marshmallow creme, bamboo and lots of other stuff. So Shirely will certainly get some very special treats on her very special day,” Montgomery said.