Tarra’s Journey

22. November 2021

On November 18, 2021, a 47 year old Asian elephant named Tarra was transferred from The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee to the Elephant Refuge North America (ERNA) in Georgia.

Tarra was born in Burma and at the tender age of 6 months, which is the equivalent of a 6 months old human baby, was taken from her mother and ended up as a mascot of a tire dealer in the US. Enters, Carol Buckley, who in 1975 was studying exotic animal management. Discovering Tarra at the tire dealer she soon become Tarra’s caretaker and eventually purchased the elephant.

After finishing her studies, Carol developed and managed elephant programs for zoos and theme parks in the US and Canada, while performing with Tarra at similar venues. Working with Tarra gave Carol a deep understanding for the emotional needs of elephants, allowing her to improve welfare standards for elephants wherever the two of them worked. However, after 20 years of such work, Tarra let Carol know that she had enough of the traveling life and needed a more stable and natural existence.

Carol & Tarra at the Elephant Sanctuary Tennessee

At that time there were no viable alternate venues for captive elephants in the US.  A new habitat for captive elephants needed to be invented. In 1995, Tarra and Carol co-founded America’s first and largest elephant sanctuary in Tennessee. There, Carol organized the rescue of 23 elephants, among them 8 elephants owned by the Hawthorn Corporation trained to be leased out to circuses. While Carol initiated individual treatment programs to help them  overcome the physical and emotional damage of decades of forced circus life, Tarra, with great empathy  for the troubled new arrivals, assisted them to assimilate into the free and natural habitat of the sanctuary. Tarra’s role in befriending new arrivals was not limited to elephants. The dog Bella and Tarra became inseparable friends for nearly a decade until Bella’s death. Tarra was in deep mourning for some time after Bella’s passing. *

Tarra and Bella at ElephantSanctuary Tennessee

Unfortunately, Tarra had to accept the loss of her other best friend, when Carol was dismissed from the Tennessee sanctuary without any visiting rights to her beloved elephant. The dismissal resulted in a 10 year lawsuit which ended this year when the Tennessee courts returned custody of the elephant to Carol.  During the interim 10 years, Tarra continued a peaceful life at the Tennessee sanctuary, making new friends with other Asian elephants. Only Carol might have an inkling of how much Tarra suffered being separated from her human “mother”.

In 2009, Carol founded  Elephant Aid International (EAI), traveling extensively in Thailand, India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Nepal, to help implement more human management methods for captive elephants.

In  2016, EAI purchased 850 acres of land in Georgia to create Elephant Refuge North America. Here, re-united with Carol and other elephants Tarra will continue her retirement.


* See Carol Buckleys book Tarra & Bella, PUFFIN BOOKS published by the Penguin Group, New York, Copyright 2009 by Carol Buckley, Puffin Books ISBN 978-0-14-751063-1