The first elephant to retire to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee in 1995 was Asian elephant, Tarra. Living at The Sanctuary for over 26 years, we had sincerely hoped that Tarra would remain in Tennessee as a beloved member of our herd forever. In November 2021, Tarra’s chapter at The Sanctuary came to a close. After ten years of litigation, the Tennessee court system made the decision that legal custody and possession of Tarra lies with Carol Buckley (more about the history of the case here). Ms. Buckley petitioned for immediate possession and, as instructed by the court, Tarra left The Sanctuary on November 18, 2021. Tarra currently lives in Georgia under Ms. Buckley’s care.
Like so many other elephants, Tarra’s life began in the wild, accompanied by her mother and other members of her herd. She was born in Burma (now Myanmar) in 1974. At six months old, she was captured from the wild and brought to the United States in a wooden crate. Tarra was first owned by a tire salesman, who exhibited her at his store in southern California. Carol Buckley purchased Tarra and trained her for performance; the two spent the next two decades traveling and performing at circuses, amusement parks, zoos, on television, and in advertising. In 1995, Tarra officially retired to The Elephant Sanctuary, founded for her by Buckley and Scott Blais.
In her retirement at The Sanctuary, Tarra warmed the hearts of fans around the world as the story and videos of her unlikely friendship with a small stray dog named Bella went viral. The pair were constant companions for eight years — eating, sleeping, playing, and exploring The Sanctuary's Asia Habitat together until Bella's passing in 2011 (watch the viral video here).
Tarra's "barking" vocalizations were easily recognized at The Sanctuary, sometimes heralding the arrival of a new resident or simply accompanying a sudden burst of excitement or emotion when greeting an old companion — of which there have been many. Tarra, ever the “social butterfly”, not only welcomed many new residents but often formed lasting bonds with them, easing their transition to Sanctuary.
Care Staff said that when Tarra was not spending time interacting with her herd mates, she was walking far and wide through the habitat, covering miles of terrain each week, if not each day. She explored many different corners of the 1600-acre Asia Habitat, and over the course of several days might be discovered at Secluded Pond, Turtle Pond Pasture, Marcella's, The Gauntlet, Hidden Pond, the lake, and the warming hut. She will forever be remembered at The Sanctuary for this contagious adventurous spirit.
We are grateful for the lasting impact Tarra made at The Sanctuary and will forever honor her legacy. Tarra paved the way for new elephants arriving at The Sanctuary and provided daily delights and surprises to her Care Staff, not to mention the many, many supporters who read about her journey, witnessed her explorations live on The Sanctuary's EleCams, and who loved her alongside us.
To read more about Tarra’s legacy, visit her tribute page.
March 3, 1995