March 4, 2013
On March 3rd, The Sanctuary celebrated the arrival anniversary of two very special Girls – Tarra, our founding elephant, in 1995; and Flora, our youngest resident, in 2004. Their life stories are very similar in some ways and very unique in others. Their strong personalities are now cornerstones of The Sanctuary.
Tarra was the inspiration for The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. Like all of our current resident elephants in The Sanctuary, Tarra was born free. In 1974, at just six months old, Tarra was captured and transported from her home in Burma to California where she became a feature attraction at a tire store lot. A recent communication from her first family provided more insight into her life – showing that she was well cared for as a baby, kept in a heated barn, fed diligently every 4 hours, and she visited often with children and school groups. The owners recognized the incredible love Carol Buckley had for Tarra and were confident turning care over to someone so devoted to Tarra.
For the next two decades, Tarra and Carol traveled the world, entertaining audiences in circuses, amusement parks, zoos, movies, and TV. As Tarra grew older, Carol came to realize that the entertainment lifestyle was not suitable for Tarra anymore. The Elephant Sanctuary was founded so that Tarra would have a place to retire. The rest, as they say, is history.
Tarra is very social, even by Asian elephant standards. Sanctuary long-time supporters are aware of the incredibly inspirational friendship that existed between Tarra and Bella, her canine companion. Their story was featured on CBS Evening News in 2009, and their friendship inspired a children’s book. This book, Tarra & Bella, is now incorporated into school curriculums around the country to help teach children the meaning of friendship and accepting people in spite of their differences.
Following Bella’s tragic passing in October 2011, Shirley and the rest of her elephant sisters helped Tarra through the grieving process elephants experience – a process that has been documented by scientists and researchers, showing the incredible depth of the emotional and social attachment of elephants, which is so similar to humans. Over the last year and a half Tarra has increasingly spent more time with Shirley – as they are both true wanderers and are often spotted on the Elecams exploring the Lakeland property at the far edges of their habitat.
Flora has the distinction of being the youngest elephant in Sanctuary. At 31, she is less than half Shirley’s age. She lost her family as a result of a culling (mass killing) of all the adults in her herd in her home country of Zimbabwe. Cullings such as these were often carried out to control the wild elephant population.
Like Tarra, Flora was captured and shipped to California. She was soon purchased by David Balding, and she became the star attraction in the circus that bore her name: Circus Flora. But as Flora grew older, David came to the same realization as had Carol before. Flora needed a life and companionship suited for an elephant. David hoped to reintroduce her to the wild in Africa, but that wasn’t meant to be. Though The Elephant Sanctuary was originally designed for Asian Elephants, the need for a home for Africans was growing, and The Sanctuary moved to fill the void and constructed an African Barn and Habitat.
Flora became the third African elephant at The Sanctuary, joining Zula and Tange. Flora may very well be the most independent elephant in Hohenwald. She is a magnificent elephant with no shortage of self-confidence or enthusiasm. In the wake of Zula’s passing, Flora has found herself the primary target of Tange’s playful attention and need for friendship, a role to which Flora is continually adjusting. They are often spotted sparring, knocking down trees, working hard to turn their habitat into a Savannah, and working together in tandem to playfully flank any unsuspecting deer and wildlife who dare to venture into their Sanctuary.