Nap-deprived and no doubt beat from all the excitement, Dulary the elephant lay down in the grass and slept under the stars, a full moon illuminating the hills and forests where she will spend her retirement after a 43-year career at the Philadelphia Zoo.

When she woke up yesterday morning, it wasn't to the roar of a commuter train zipping by, but to springtime in rural Tennessee and the trumpets and touches of new herdmates.

To celebrate, she wedged herself between three trees and scratched all over her massive, 8,100-pound body, said Jen Robertson, the Philadelphia Zoo trainer who accompanied Dulary to the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald.

"She still seems like a happy elephant," she said.

Robertson, who yesterday afternoon was preparing for the big goodbye and a flight back to Philadelphia, sounded like a parent pulling away from the college dorm for the first time.

"It's going to be a little sad," she said, "but she's already made friends here."

That would be Misty, a flamboyant circus veteran about Dulary's age, and her companion, Delhi, a wise old crone of 60 crippled by bone disease. By afternoon, the trio had formed "a rotating sandwich," each one taking a turn being in the middle.

"There's immense joy going on," said Carol Buckley, who cofounded the sanctuary 12 years ago with one elephant, Tarra, after the pair had performed in circuses together for years. "Dulary is a natural, the exact right personality."

When Dulary's caravan pulled up at the sanctuary on Tuesday afternoon - a day early, thanks to the ease with which she boarded the transport trailer here - it had been more than a decade since she had seen another Asian elephant. Her last years at the zoo had been spent in the company of three Africans; after she fought with one of them, she was isolated, spending most of each day alone in a small barn.

She made the nearly 900-mile trip to Hohenwald "demonstrating a serene calmness befitting a queen," according to an online diary posted by the sanctuary, with an overnight rest stop in a Wal-Mart parking lot outside Knoxville.

In Tennessee, she'll be the eighth member of the "founding herd," as Tarra's group is called. There is another group of eight Asians in quarantine - the Divas - in another part of the sanctuary. Three Africans live in a third habitat on the 2,700-acre preserve, which sits on land once owned by a paper company.

Dulary's departure from Philadelphia signals the beginning of the end of the zoo's long run with elephants, which dates to its opening in 1874. Unable to raise money to build the elephants a better home, the zoo is closing the exhibit. This fall, the Africans, Petal, 51, Kallie, 24, and Bette, 23, will move to the Pittsburgh Zoo's conservation center in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.

Dulary's final days here were spent in the limelight, with zoo-goers signing a big farewell card posted outside her yard, and blowing goodbye kisses.

"Everybody at the zoo loved her," said Robertson, her keeper.

Captured in Thailand as an infant - possibly at a timber camp - Dulary made brief stops in India and Germany before arriving in Philadelphia in 1964 as a 300-pound 8-month-old, scarfing bananas and escarole.

The trip to Tennessee was her first since that time, yet no one was surprised when the easy-going elephant got right on the trailer, which was backed up to her yard last weekend so she could explore it.

Getting her off wasn't so easy.

"The first real choice she ever made in her life was to get into that trailer, and she had a bizarre trip in a little box," Buckley said. "So when she had the chance to make the next choice, she said no."

It took more than four hours, but Dulary finally got off after Tarra, the official greeter, swiped food from the trailer. Dulary muscled her aside. Tarra tried again. Dulary squeezed her out. Then Tarra, the least dominant member of the herd, wandered off, and a curious Dulary ambled down the ramp and followed her into a field, then the woods.

"This is the beginning of a new life," Buckley said, "and she knows it."

To read Dulary's diary and watch the Elecam, go to http://go.philly.com/dulary2EndText

Contact staff writer Julie Stoiber
at 215-854-2468 or jstoiber@phillynews.com.