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



MONROE, La. – 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.