UPDATE: Shirley the elephant is being remembered as her old zookeeper looks back on their friendship

Louisiana News

UPDATE: (KTVE/KARD)– The beloved elephant named Shirley, spent many years at the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo and now her memory is being honored. NBC 10/FOX talked to Shirley’s old zookeeper about the life they shared together.

“She’s going to be missed. I miss her. I miss her more than anything in the world,” said Solomon James Jr., Shirley’s Zookeeper at the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo.

Shirley, the 72-year-old Asian Elephant, is being remembered as her zookeeper, Solomon James, looks back on their friendship.

“You could just call her name and she would come right up to you and let her pet you,” said James.

Shirley was ill and the decision was made to euthanize her Monday morning at an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee. The day Shirley was brought to the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo, Solomon taught her commands that ultimately built their unbreakable bond.

“We could get Shirley to move forwards, get her to move backwards, or get Shirley to hold her trunk up, and even to hold her legs up,” said James.

Solomon says his childhood dream was to pet and take care of an elephant, and Shirley helped fulfill that dream for more than 20 years.

“I would usually talk to people, I would tell them what is your job. Some were school teachers, lawyers, and this and that. I would tell them, “well I keep an elephant at the zoo”. They would say an elephant, really? How many people do you know that keep an elephant every day, not too many. But anyway, it was quite thrilling.”

In 1999 Shirley was transported to an elephant sanctuary and the best friends had to say their goodbyes. However, Solomon got to see Shirley one last time on her birthday a few years back. He was worried she wouldn’t remember him.

“I said “Shirley,” when she looked and turned, she came straight to me. That’s when the woman said she “hasn’t forgotten you”. Amazing. They say elephants don’t forget and I guess that’s true,” said James.

Solomon says no animal can replace the love he had for his old friend, Shirley.

“When the news first hit me, it hit me like a ton of bricks. People would say are you going to be alright, I would say well imma try but I lost one of my biggest friends,” said James.

You can purchase a “Shirley” shirt by clicking here. The donations will go to the elephant sanctuary and help fund a memorial for Shirley at the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo. The sanctuary has set up a memorial page to tell Shirley’s incredible life-story and allow all those who loved her to leave their tributes. You can see that link, here.


UPDATE: (KTVE/KARD)– The Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo has confirmed 72-year-old Shirley, an Asian elephant, passed away early Monday morning. Shirley was sick and a decision was made to euthanize her. The Monroe zoo took Shirley in after she was injured in a fire in the circus.
Officials say the circus contacted multiple zoos to take her in, but the Lousiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo is the only one that said yes. Shirley arrived in Monroe in 1976 and then was transported to an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee in 1999. Shirley was the sanctuary’s oldest elephant and, at the time of her passing, held the record for the second oldest elephant in North America. Shirley’s zookeeper, Salomon James, still works at the Monroe zoo as a security guard. Zoo officials say Salomon saw Shirley a few years ago on her birthday.

“Visitors are not allowed at the elephant sanctuary, but they let Solomon visit her some time ago on one of her birthdays. They said “we can’t take you to her or promise you anything, but we can take you close to where she was up against the fence.” Apparently, Shirley saw him and came right up to Solomon.” said Tom Pearson, Director of the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo.

The sanctuary has set up a memorial page to tell Shirley’s incredible life-story and allow all those who loved her to leave their tributes. You can see that link, here.


UPDATE: (KTVE/KARD) — The city of Monroe issued a statement following the death of Shirley.

They city says they are saddened by the news of Shirley, the Asian elephant’s passing.

Shirley spent 22 years in Monroe and in that time, she became a city icon.

Mayor Friday Ellis says, “the City of Monroe lost a piece of history with the passing of Shirley. I know many people, myself included, have memories of Shirley from their childhood. She certainly added to the wonder of visiting the zoo and is part of some of my happiest childhood memories with family and friends.”

Shirley came to the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo in 1976.

As Shirley grew older, the zoo staff decided she needed more space and the companionship of other elephants. That’s when she was taken to Tennessee.


(KTVE/KARD) (February 23, 2021 4:35 p.m.) — A beloved member of the ArkLaMiss has died. The elephant named Shirley who spent many years at the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo and was moved to an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee passed away Monday.

In a Facebook post, The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee said that Shirley’s health had been declining over the last few weeks and when her legs became too weak to support her weight, the crew of care takers decided it was best to help ease her transition.

The CEO of The Elephant Sanctuary, Janice Zeitlin, had this to say about caring for Shirley “We learned so much about the dignity and grace of elephants aging in captivity through caring for Shirley, and we will continue to apply this knowledge to help care for all current and future residents. Shirley leaves an enduring legacy marked by a truly remarkable life, and she will be deeply missed by all.”

She was 72-years-old

To learn more about Shirley and her grand life click here.

All photos below are courtesy of The Elephant Sanctuary.

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