Born:  1974
Birthplace: Burma
Birth status: wild born
• Captured from the wild: 1974
• Life before the Sanctuary: privately owned, performed in circuses and zoos
• Reason for coming to the Sanctuary: inspiration and founding member
• Moved to The Elephant Sanctuary March 3, 1995

Height: 8' 2"
Favorite Food: Watermelon

Tarra is short and stout with a very dark complexion which is indicative of elephants from her region. Her tail is quite long; the end is covered with thick hair, quite effective for swatting insects. Her small ears fold back at the top.

Tarra, aka Fluffie, is a female Asian elephant born in Burma, Asia. In 1974, when Tarra was only six months old, she was prematurely weaned and separated from her mother when she was sold to an animal broker who imported her into the United States. Tarra was flown in a small wooden crate from Thailand to California by cargo plane. A local businessman in Simi Valley, Ca. purchased Tarra, and named her Fluffie. Fluffie spent the next year and a half living in the back of a delivery truck. She lived in the parking lot of a tire dealer store by day, and a single family residential home driveway by night. Shortly after Tarra's arrival in the USA, the Asian elephant was declared an endangered species, and all future importation of Asian elephants into America was halted.

Tarra loves the water Carol Buckley, a first year student attending an exotic animal management course at a nearby college, learned of Fluffie's existence. She became her volunteer care taker. Within months Fluffie was no longer spending her days cooped up in the back of a delivery truck. Carol arranged for Fluffie to spend a limited time on exhibit at the tire store, a few hours each Saturday and Sunday. The remainder of the week Fluffie was housed away from the tire store under Carol's care. By the time Fluffie was two years old, Carol, her full-time care taker, purchased her and changed her name to Tarra.

For the next two decades, Carol and Tarra traveled throughout the world "entertaining" audiences in circuses, amusement parks, zoos, on television, and in motion pictures. When not performing, Carol and Tarra lived in the small mountain town of Ojai, California, on a private compound located in the Los Padres National Forest. In 1980, Tarra became the world's only roller-skating elephant, a talent that served to display her intelligence, coordination, and grace. But it soon became apparent to Carol that although Tarra enjoyed playing on skates it sent the wrong message. Carol decided to retire Tarra's skating routine and concentrated on a more educational presentation. Although very athletic, Tarra's abilities were not limited to sports. In 1986, "Tarra originals," custom watercolor artwork created by Tarra, were displayed at her hometown gallery. Tarra was the featured artist at shows and galleries across the U.S and prior to her retirement, Tarra's engagements were primarily in zoos where the emphasis was on education.

In the summer of 1991, Tarra was successfully bred in Ontario, Canada. After a twenty-two-month gestation period, Tarra began a very difficult labor that lasted two days and resulted in the delivery of a stillborn calf. Research indicates that first-time mother elephants, in the wild as well as in captivity, have a 33% rate of stillbirth with their first calf.

On March 3, 1995, after twenty-one years of entertaining the public, Tarra retired, becoming the first resident of the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee. She continues to be joined by others of her highly social species. They will live out the remainder of their sixty-plus years together at this natural-habitat refuge developed specifically for endangered Asian elephants.

Resident Artist

Tarra paints a pictureBorn in Burma, Asia, Tarra's artistic talent began to emerge almost immediately upon her introduction to America and life in captivity. Often, Tarra was observed holding a stick in her trunk, drawing abstract images in the dirt. Using a stone grasped firmly in the end of her trunk, she passed the solitary night time hours by etching drawings on the concrete floor of her barn.

Tarra used a variety of brushes and colors to create her extraordinary art, each uniquely different. With dexterity and infinite control, she directed each precise movement of her trunk, (it has over 300,000 muscles) which held the paint brush, creating a perfect expression of her mood at that moment.

A signature style with no comparison, Tarra added speckles of color to her artwork in true elephant fashion. Poised inches from her already impressive abstract, she snorkeled just the right amount of non-toxic paint into her trunk, then blasted the canvas creating another 'Tarra' original. As you might guess, the spraying was her favorite part, but her masterpiece was not complete until she grasped her felt pen firmly with the tip of her trunk and confidently added her distinctive signature.

Tarra is retired and no longer chooses to paint, instead she spends her time immersed in nature along with her ele-sisters at her home, The Elephant Sanctuary, the nation's only natural-habitat refuge for Asian elephants, in Hohenwald, Tennessee. She lives on over twenty-two hundred acres with spring fed ponds, year round streams, pasture and dense woods to roam and explore. Tarra, along with others of her species, can once again experience how it feels to be free.


Article from the Nashville City Paper about Animal Artists
by Deanna Larson (dlarson@nashvillecitypaper.com)
June 10, 2003

Faster pussycat, paint, paint.

"Study in Blue and Green." "Daisy Dialectic." "Concert on the Riverbank." These aren't 19th century Impressionist pieces or 20th century modern masterpieces, but work created by elephants, cats, and pigs. These species join Picasso, Pissaro and primates in expressing themselves through art.

Accusations of toddler finger painting aside, professionals who work with animals observe that creating art is therapy and stress release —perhaps even expression— for animals as well as humans.

And for those who suspect some clever human holds the brush while Fluffy paints "Study in Tuna Can," animal art museums display works that are certifiable: pictures or video of the artist at work accompanies the piece.

Only a very small percentage of domestic cats are known to paint, according to the Museum of Non-Primate Art in New Zealand (monpa.com).

Cats often use their paws to scrape at dirt or kitty litter soaked in their urine and transfer it to a tree trunk or wall so the scent will carry, according to the site. Because the ammonia in some acrylics smell like urine, some cats will use paints in the same way.

Bird "art" is euphemistically called "the art of ornithological dejecta" by enthusiasts. Those with freshly washed cars call this artwork bird doo doo (What Bird Did That? has instructions for studying these splats to determine which species painted the work).

Elephants are intelligent creatures that rarely thrive in boring human routine. Tarra, an Asian elephant now living at the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, began drawing in the dirt during her captivity using a stick held in her trunk. She also used a stone to etch drawings on the concrete floor of her barn during solitary nights, according to elephants.com.

Tarra was given brushes and paints at the sanctuary to help her adjust to her new life and stay active, said Carol Buckley of the Elephant Sanctuary. She produced many works before her retirement, which are displayed in museum collections and were sold at elephants.com to benefit the Tarra Endowment Fund.

"Tarra is recovered and doesn't need to paint anymore," Buckley said. "She doesn't need that artificial stimuli — because she's got the real thing."

Pigs are also intelligent, sensitive animals that enjoy wallowing in paints. At Shepherd's Green Pig Refuge at Dragonwood Farm near Center Hill Lake, pigs plough paint with their snouts, tread on the canvases, and wad t-shirts into balls and push them across the lawn, according to the refuge Web site (www.9sites.com).

Those tickled by the image will want to attend the Pigasso Art Show this Sunday from noon to 4 p.m. at the Rivergate PetSmart across from Rivergate Mall.

Winkie the pig will paint, and art and t-shirts created by other Shepherd's Green residents will be available for purchase. All proceeds support the abandoned, abused and unwanted pet pigs at the sanctuary.

It is with heavy hearts we honor the passing of Bella the Dog 10/26/2011. Eight years ago, the white stray canine wandered into our habitat and befriended The Sanctuary’s founding elephant, Tarra. The inseparable friends were incredible in their devotion to each other and the story of their unique bond has been shared around the world. Visit Bella’s Tribute page.

We love and miss you, Bella, and will continue to take care of your friend Tarra.