Minnie (born 1966), Debbie (born 1971) and Ronnie (born 1967) all arrived at the CFC-funded organization’s sanctuary in early 2006 after decades of traveling and performing for different circuses. All three elephants were born wild in Asia before being captured as calves and imported to North America. Minnie spent 17 years at a wild animal farm in Alberta, Canada, before being sold into the circus industry; Debbie spent over 20 years performing under big tops for a circus group; and Ronnie was imported in 1968, though little is known about where she spent her earliest years in the U.S. At the age of nine, Ronnie was purchased by a corporation that trained and leased performing elephants. That same corporation purchased Minnie in 1995 and Debbie in 1996.
When the elephants weren’t on lease, they were kept chained in place for most of the day inside of a dark barn in northern Illinois. As a result of USDA prosecutions against the corporation for violations of the Animal Welfare Act involving inadequate care and mistreatment of its elephants, 11 elephants were sent to a CFCF-funded organization in Tennessee over the course of four years. Minnie, Debbie and Ronnie all arrived in late January and early February, 2006.
When she first arrived, Minnie became very close to two older elephants who were also from the corporation, Queenie and Lottie, while Debbie and Ronnie became a very tight pair, exploring the land together. After Queenie’s passing in 2008, Lottie and Minnie stuck together – Lottie being the more dominant personality over the sometimes boisterous Minnie. Lottie’s passing in 2010 left Minnie without close companions. The organization’s staff created opportunities for Minnie to join Debbie and Ronnie in the same area of the habitat for closely monitored socializing opportunities, or play-dates.
Normally, the play-dates would end when the three would lose interest or when they showed signs of anxiety. But that changed one day in September of 2015. The daytime play-date turned into a night, then another day, then a week, then a month. A trio was formed, the result of years of relationship-building between these three amazing animals.
The three are always together now, often joining in a chorus of excited vocalizations after being apart for even a short time. Until the trio was formed, Minnie was described as a quiet elephant, but no longer – her long, low trumpet is easily recognized echoing through the habitat. Debbie and Ronnie have even been spotted joining Minnie in her explorations of the ridgelines along the northern edge of the habitat – areas that Debbie and Ronnie had never been seen before. It is a common sight to see all three lying down together in the sun, resting safely and soaking in the warmth of the Tennessee land.