elephant life lessons

Greetings, friendly neighbors! I hope you are having a wonderful holiday season. To enhance your holiday cheer (and as solace for those of you who struggle with SAD and/or the holidays in general like I usually do), I wanted to offer you some inspiration and joy from the remarkable elephants at The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN.

The sanctuary is home to 14 magnificent female elephants who are now living happy and free after decades of captivity as circus or zoo entertainers. These elephants deserve all of the goodness we can give them, especially after the horrible conditions they have had to endure. There are many valuable lessons to be learned from The Girls, all good reminders for this emotional time of year.

So! I have compiled a list of Top Five Elephant Life Lessons for you.

1. Life is a gift.

Although I have much love for all elephants, Shirley is my favorite elephant in the whole world. Why? She has endured captivity as a circus elephant, a fire on a sinking ship, and 22 years in a tiny zoo, shuffling between only a plod of grass and a small cement holding pen. She had no other elephant friends. She wore chains. For 22 years.

But then she was rescued by the sanctuary’s friendly neighbors and brought to the sanctuary in 1999. At that time, she was reunited with Jenny, an elephant who performed in the same circus as Shirley about 25 years before. Shirley and Jenny totally remembered each other right away. Shirley showed Jenny her crooked hind right leg (broken when Shirley was attacked by another elephant in the circus), the missing part of her right ear (ripped off in the ship fire), and her various scars from the fire. Jenny patted Shirley’s injuries all over with her trunk. They were bonded for life, a love that transcended space and time, and Shirley carries Jenny in her heart to this day.

Shirley and Jenny, reunited after 22 years

I write people love stories, but my favorite animal love story is Shirley + Jenny, reunited after 22 years. You can watch Shirley’s arrival at the sanctuary and their amazing reunion here. WARNING: There is no way you can watch this without crying. Be prepared.

Shirley is a survivor, and a role model for all elephants and humans. She knows that life is a gift to be appreciated every single day. At 67 years young, she is super active and gets around like the rock star she is. Go Shirley!

2. Enjoy the Now.

Elephants are a lot like people. They have distinct personalities and mannerisms. They have favorite things just like we do. Misty loves napping. Tarra likes watermelon and socializing. Sissy takes her tire around with her like a security blanket. Tange loves mudding. And my girl Shirley enjoys simple pleasures like basking in the sun or going for a swim. She likes to walk over small pine trees for a belly rub and scratch her ears with sticks.

Shirley likes belly rubs

These sweet Girls are gentle souls who understand that it’s all about the little things.

3. All you need is love.

Shirley and Tarra

This Trunk Hugs video of Shirley and Tarra says it all.


4. Treat others the way you want to be treated.

For her 65th birthday, Shirley received a delicious treat. A frozen fruit popsicle all for Shirley! While Shirley was enjoying her birthday treat, Tarra came over to investigate. Shirley is well aware of Tarra’s snack stealing tactics. But out of respect for Shirley’s special day, Tarra did not try to snatch a bite of the fruit. Instead she swirled her trunk in the air, then put her trunk in her mouth to taste the fruit essence. Way to be a friendly neighbor, Tarra!

5. Practice daily gratitude.

These sweet Girls are now very happy elephants. They have been given the gift of ele-heaven, spending each day in true sanctuary style doing whatever they choose. Elephants never forget. The Girls remember their life before sanctuary, the scary situations and lonely years they suffered, the losses of their fellow elephant friends they have mourned. I think that makes them even more grateful for the wonderful safe haven they now have in their forever home.

I watch the Girls on The Elephant Sanctuary’s EleCams. A lot. They looked especially happy today, grazing, dusting, napping, sunning, and socializing. When Shirley is extra happy, she does not hold back. Like the time she was in such a great mood she trumpeted right into Tarra’s mouth!

Shirley and Tarra, BFFs

You can watch this video and lots of others on The Elephant Sanctuary’s YouTube.

Eternal thanks to co-founders Carol Buckley and Scott Blais, and everyone at The Elephant Sanctuary for giving these gentle souls such loving care, a beautiful environment, and a forever home. Here’s to many more years of happy elephant bliss ❤

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2 thoughts on “elephant life lessons

  1. I did not know about this sanctuary, but I’m so glad these elephants have a wide open place to live the rest of their lives. I sure hope someone is working on a picture book or even MG book about Shirley and Jenny!

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