The Divas and Darling Jenny by Kate Elliott

Elephant photos and ele-diary entry used with permission of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.

***image2***Merryn had suggested that I write about the progress of the rescued ex-Hawthorn elephants now fondly known as the ex-circus divas. I started to write and then stopped because all our energy was going towards Jenny, the third arrival at The Elephant Sanctuary who died October 17, after a long illness.

Carol Buckley encouraged all of us to concentrate on good energy to keep the light bright and support Jenny in her process. As we celebrate the beginnings of life, so we should celebrate and honor the end. After we all finally accepted that Jenny was going to orchestrate her passing, it became clear this was not going to be an ordinary week. Carol writes so eloquently in her tribute to Jenny:

Jenny chose a beautiful forested wash area to lie down and rest until her time came to leave this world. Shirley, the closest thing to a mother that Jenny had known, stood protectively at Jenny’s side, day and night, helping her to rise when Jenny shifted her weight to lie on her other side. Flanked by Bunny and Tarra, they all seemed to know a serious change was occurring. On the day before her passing, Jenny engaged her sisters in the most profound chorus of rumbling as Carol and Scott stood witness and caressed Jenny, allowing the vibrations to penetrate their very souls. Everyone had accepted that Jenny was leaving and it was obvious that this group song was an important part of Jenny’s dying process, a process that excluded no one and drew her loved ones to a most intimate space with her. The joy-filled singing lasted for three hours. With each exhalation came a most relaxed and familiar rumble which drew Jenny’s family deeper and deeper into the ritual, with Bunny adding a crescendo trumpet and Tarra chirping her excitement. Still, Jenny did not pass but spent yet another blissful night with her family near by, caregivers included.

***image7***Jenny died the very next day, in the arms of her beloved caregivers, caressed by her family of elephants. Jenny came to the Sanctuary in 1996, a very damaged and shy girl.

Tarra welcomed her and helped her relax, and Jenny was blissful for three years, then the real miracle in her life happened, Shirley. Shirley, a much older elephant had met Jenny over twenty years before, and they reunited in a very emotional meeting. Their mother-daughter bond continued until Jenny passed. Shirley and Jenny, never seen apart, their reunion and relationship documented in the PBS special “The Urban Elephant” have brought thousands of new members to the Sanctuary. Shirley now spends all her time with Bunny and Tarra, and is showing new facets of her individual personality. Shirley’s life is documented in Carol Buckley’s new children’s book “Just for Elephants ”.

***image3***Here in Tennessee, I am always motivated to get to work early. The other inhabitants of the building that contains my office at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee do not wait for me, in fact they do not know me at all, and that’s the way we want it. I cannot speak to them, nor do I even look directly at them and yet I feel such powerful love for them. Billie, Liz and Frieda, three of the ex-circus divas, rescued from the Hawthorn Corporation this February spend many nights in the barn, which also houses my office.

If I make it to work early enough, I can hear when Billie leaves the barn, she still wears her leg bracelet, she is not yet comfortable enough for her caregivers to remove it, but it does not impede her daily activities. The point is that her caregivers recognize that she is not yet comfortable, and her feelings are respected. Now that the December days are chilly, the three linger in the barn long after their bath, and then head outside to nap in the sun. The day darkens, and then we begin to hear the long exhale, elephants are returning.

A lot has happened to these divas in ten months, but nothing has happened that was not their own idea. There were of course relationship challenges, having been chained in a line for two years, (while waiting to be placed at an “appropriate” facility), there was a lot to work out once they all came face to face.

***image6***There is much conversation about Magnificent Minnie, who has become the self appointed matriarch, (with Lottie as her spiritual leader!) Minnie’s secret is she is incredibly smart, and she is certainly analyzing her new reality, what it may mean for her, and will it last. Everyone respects Minnie, sometimes she tries to force that respect from the other elephants, but we respect her because she is smart and a beautiful survivor. It will be exciting to watch Minnie enjoy her new life over the next several years, she seems to be a deeply complex and powerful individual.

I remind myself every day who these elephants are, and how they used to live, and how long it took to win their release. I wish for each of them much of the boundless joy that dear Jenny found, each and every day at The Elephant Sanctuary.

by Kate Elliott
Kate Elliott is a theatrical and event producer living in the woods outside New York City. Kate has worked and/ or produced shows with Patrick Stewart, Bobby McFerrin, Martha Graham Dance Company, Rudolf Nureyev and all major Hollywood film studios. Before falling in love with elephants, Kate was studying for a masters in Marine Biology. She now serves on the Executive Council of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee and is also their volunteer grantwriter.