In Memory of Barbara
1966 ~ May 18, 2001

Barbara munching grass

Birth: 1966
Birthplace: Sri Lanka
Birth status: wild born
• Captured from the wild: 1967
• Life before the Sanctuary: Privately owned, performed in circuses
• Reason for coming to the Sanctuary: wasting disease
• Moved to The Elephant Sanctuary April 25, 1996

Height: 8' 6"
Favorite Food: Peanut butter

Barbara was from Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia. She was quite thin due to a wasting disease that plagued her almost her entire life. It was difficult for Barbara to utilize her nutrients and maintain body fat.

Her large ears were indicative of the elephants from her area. She was naturally tusk-less, and had a long tail that nearly touched the ground. Although her tail was hairless when she arrived, five years later, the hair had grown, creating an effective fly swatter.


Barbara was a female Asian elephant who was born in 1966 in the wilds of Southeast Asia. In 1968, when Barbara was two years old, she was captured by elephant trainers known as mahouts. Assisted by their trained elephants, the mahouts singled out Barbara, chosen for her age, conformation, and disposition. The mahouts, riding atop their trained elephants, captured Barbara by walking into the herd and dropping ropes around her neck and legs. With a trained elephant on either side, Barbara was dragged from her jungle home. She was taken to an elephant "work camp" where elephants are trained to move trees for the logging industry.

During the first few weeks at the logging camp, Barbara was tied to a tree, her movement severely limited. She was completely dependent on the mahouts for food, water and medical treatment. The mahouts spent hours encouraging her to accept them as her new family. Once Barbara learned to tolerate life in captivity, she was loaded into a wooden crate and sent by ship to America. Barbara arrived in Florida along with seven other elephants who would be her family for the next twenty-four years.

Barbara and the seven other elephants were purchased as performing elephants for the circus, but first they needed to be trained. For several months the elephants were taught a variety of tricks, including standing on their hind legs, lying down, and holding one another's tails. Learning the tricks was not difficult, but it was stressful and unnatural. For the next twelve years Barbara and her new family performed in traveling circuses throughout the United States.

Barbara was the youngest of her herd, and by fourteen was of breeding age. Other members of her family were already pregnant when the herd was retired to a breeding facility in Florida. Sometime during this transition from performing to breeding, Barbara began to lose weight. Tests were done; all came up negative. No answer could be found for Barbara's low weight. Over the next twelve years Barbara struggled with this weight-loss condition. Several baby elephants were born during this time, but none to Barbara.

In November 1995, Barbara and her family were once again moved. The owner of the new breeding facility refused to allow Barbara to accompany the other elephants. Due to her emaciated appearance, Barbara was separated from her family and forced to live in solitary confinement, where she quickly became severely depressed.

On April 25, 1996, 2,000 pounds underweight, Barbara was permanently relocated to The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee. She became the second resident of the nation's only natural-habitat refuge for Asian elephants. CNN and local news stations were on hand to record Barbara's first step onto Sanctuary grounds. Barbara and Tarra, (the Sanctuary's first resident) became immediate friends and can be seen grazing the pastures and bathing, side by side, in the spring-fed stream.

Sharon Callahan talks about Barbara in a book by Susan McElroy entitled Animals as Guides to the Soul, published by Ballentine.

Elephant packs her trunk and moves on

April 27, 1996
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN)

Once upon a time, there was an elephant named Barbara who lived at the circus.

One day Barbara left the circus to become a mother, but when she could not have a little elephant, she became depressed and lonely. She refused to eat and lost too much weight.

So she traveled to Tennessee to a new home where she found a new friend. Soon she was eating like ... well, an elephant and exploring her new home.

Barbara is the second elephant to take up residence at a 112-acre sanctuary in Tennessee for elephants cast off by zoos and circuses. The haven was founded by Carol Buckley and Scott Blais.

After the 700-mile journey from Tampa to Tennessee in her custom-made trailer, Barbara, a 26-year-old Asian elephant, was at first cautious about her new surroundings.
Elephant Crossing

But despite her weight problem, Barbara has a lot going for her, says Buckley. "From what I hear, she's never shown any signs of aggression, gets along with everybody," says Buckley. "She's a happy animal, and I think when you look at her, she's got bright eyes, she looks content. She's not high-strung."

Shortly after arriving, Barbara's winning personality paid off. She quickly made friends with Tarra, the first elephant to arrive at the sanctuary.

Tarra, also a female Asian elephant, hadn't seen another of her species in two years. Upon meeting, the two animals approached and greeted each other by calling out loudly. They became friends, sharing food and caressing one another with their trunks. (884K QuickTime movie)

The next day Tarra showed Barbara the sanctuary, which has hills, pasture, ponds and a stream. Their home is a vast open space, probably similar to what their ancestors once enjoyed.

"It's not going to be identical to their natural herd environment, but we're trying our best," said Blais.

There's no thought of destroyed lives this fine spring day. Tarra finally has a friend; Barbara has freedom, hope, companionship; and both have the prospect of other unwanted elephants joining them in the years ahead.

Barbara's Surgery Successful!
October 29, 1998

After weeks of preparation the surgical team was assembled. Dr. Ed Ramsay and Dr. Jurgen Schumacker of UT Knoxville Veterinary Program were ready to begin a most monumental surgery. The goal was to remove overgrown teeth from Barbara's mouth.

Since her arrival to the Sanctuary and for a decade prior health problems have plagued Barbara. Overgrown teeth were one of her more obvious conditions but until her weight and overall health improved consulting Veterinarians recommended postponing surgery requiring anesthesia.

The time had arrived. At 10:30 A.M. October 29, they laid all of the surgical equipment out and the team was ready to begin. Barbara was a star patient. Although her keepers at the Sanctuary do not dominate her, Barbara responded immediately to Carol Buckley's request for her to lie down. In this prone and most vulnerable position Barbara remained fully cooperative allowing Dr. Schumacker the anesthesiologist to administer an immobilizing drug into a vein in her ear.

Every thing to this point went smooth. Barbara quickly drifted off, responding to the drug as expected. However, she then stopped breathing. The five competent practitioners sprang into action. They gave Barbara respiration stimulation, both intramuscular and intravenous and within seconds her breathing resumed. They detected a steady heart beat. There was a collective sigh of relief, including a huge rise and fall of Barbara's chest as she took in and expelled a healthy breath of air.

To open Barbara's mouth Dr. Ramsay used a six-foot long crowbar and a two-inch wide piece of flat bar steel as a tongue depressor. To trim and remove sections of the ten-pound tooth, they used an electric grinder, concrete chisel and sledge hammer. The surgery was a success and Barbara responded to the reversal drug by awaking and getting to her feet in less than five minutes. The surgery was completed in 73 minutes. Within five hours of the surgery Barbara was already eating.

Tree of Life

Barbara had a special friend, The Tree of Life, which generously donated a six-month supply of flaxseed oil to help keep her healthy. This was a step to address her chronic underweight condition. Flaxseed oil contains essential fatty acids that are required by the body to regenerate new healthy tissue and maintain good health. The body is able to utilize the sun's healing energy to promote and sustain healing only if fatty acids are available. Some of the symptoms experienced without fatty acids include dry skin and skin problems, drying out of mucus membranes, digestive problems, and predisposition to infections and parasites. We are very grateful to Tree of Life and wish to thank them for this most generous contribution.

There are other special friends in Barbara's cheering section — Barbara needed an extra layer to keep warm in the cold Tennessee months, so Patagonia stepped in and donated over 60 yards of fleece and waterproof materials to make her a sweater. Janet Wilson of Nashville Draperies kindly donated her services to design and create this one-of-a-kind garment. Not only was Barbara kept warm — she also walked the Sanctuary acres in style.


Necropsy Report Summary

Barbara suffered for twenty years from an undetermined wasting disease and died of an opportunistic pulmonary infection caused by Streptococcus agalactiae.