Wednesday, October 13, 2010


I have been following the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee, from shortly after its founding in 1995 as a 2-person endeavor with a single Asian elephant to a 2,700-acre refuge housing more than 2 dozen Asian and African elephants. I was surprised to learn yesterday that one of the co-founders, Carol Buckley, has been forced out. The sensationalized news headline reads, "Woman sues for elephant visitation rights." The story is better understood from the elephant's perspective:

Hi, my name is Tarra. I was captured in Burma 6 months after my birth in 1974 and imported to the U.S. shortly before it became illegal. I lived with a California businessman who called me 'Fluffie.' I spent my nights in his driveway and my days in the parking lot of his tire dealership. A local student of exotic animal management volunteered to care for me, reduced my working hours, and soon adopted me. Carol (2nd image) renamed me and took me around the world to entertain in circuses and amusement parks. We were on TV and in the movies, and I even learned to roller skate! Although I enjoyed it, Carol decided that this talent sent the wrong message, so we instead appeared at zoos with a more educational program. Carol and I performed for 21 years, living in a private compound in Los Padres National Forest when we weren't on the road. In 1991 I had a baby, but it was stillborn, which is typical for 1/3 of the calves of first-time mothers in the wild and in captivity. I retired from show business 4 years later and became the 1st resident of the Elephant Sanctuary. Within a few years, several other elephants had moved in and we became fast friends. I also bonded with my buddy Bella (1st image), a friendship celebrated on the air and in a book. I gave up painting, which I had taken up years ago. As Carol explained it, "Tarra is recovered and doesn't need to paint anymore....She doesn't need that artificial stimuli — because she's got the real thing." The Elephant Sanctuary even stopped selling prints of my abstract works in 2008 because of the exploitation of elephant artists in Thailand. No exploitation here - and no crowds of visitors (who can instead watch us remotely on the Elecam). Just food, fellowship, roaming room, and a swimming hole to wallow in. But where's Carol?

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