Jenny was only a calf when she and the much older Shirley were performing elephants in the Carson and Barnes Circus. After their stint with the circus, the two were taken to separate zoos and wouldn’t see each other for 22 years.
In 1999, Shirley’s handler Solomon took the crippled elephant on a long trip to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. As Shirley walked into the Sanctuary barn, she recognized another elephant, Tara — the first friend she hadn’t seen in many years — and caressed her with her trunk. Jenny was brought to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee following an attack by a bull elephant, but hadn’t been in the barn since Shirley’s arrival. When she entered it later that night, the two let out tremendous trumpeting roars and greeted each other with intense emotion.
“This relationship is intense and resembles that of mother and daughter. We are so blessed,” said former Sanctuary director Carol Buckley.
The pair continued their bond long after their initial meeting. They stayed side-by-side when wandering outside together, and Shirley would shield her younger friend from the sun when she lay in the grass for a nap.
They were inseparable until Jenny’s passing in 2006. According to Buckley, “The day before she died, Jenny had been down and she wouldn’t get up. Shirley stood by her and insisted that Jenny 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 she knew that Jenny was dying. Jenny dropped to the ground and Shirley walked into the woods.”
After Shirley left, Jenny let out a long rumbling vocalization that didn’t stop for another two hours. Fellow elephants Tara and Bunny joined in the rumbling. Right before Jenny passed, she let out a low, peaceful trumpet-like sound. Shirley didn’t eat for two days after that, but she had the other elephants to lean on for support, like an extended family.