Tarra the elephant celebrates her 50th birthday

Published 10:26 am Thursday, February 15, 2024

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Yesterday, one of Decatur County’s largest residents celebrated a landmark birthday. Tarra, Elephant Aid International’s (EAI) female Asian elephant, turned 50 years old. Unlike her fellow residents Bo and Mundi, Tarra has been with Sanctuary founder Carol Buckley for much of her life. The pair initially met in California in the 70s; back then, Buckley was studying exotic animal handling in college, and Mundi, then called Fluffy, had been recently imported to the United States from Myanmar, by a tire dealership. Buckley would help care for Tarra, eventually buying her from the dealership. The duo would then go on to perform in circuses and even make appearances on TV and in movies, with Tarra even becoming known for her roller skating abilities.

However, the duo would retire early from show business, with Buckley going on to work at zoos as the elephant caretaker. “Then we started doing zoo, and when I say ‘Doing zoo’, I would book Tarra and I into zoos in the summertime to do elephant rides,” Buckley told the Post-Searchlight in a prior interview. “Then that evolved into actually hiring on in zoos as the elephant caretaker, Tarra and I both. So there’d be other elephants, so Tarra could be with other elephants.”

During this time, Buckley said she was “searching” for a place the duo could spend their life together. This ultimately led to Buckley founding The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, with Tarra as the founding resident, then just 21 years old. Unfortunately, Buckley would find herself having disagreements with the rest of the Sanctuary’s board, ultimately leading to her being removed from her position, and losing rights to visit Tarra and have any say over her care.

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This sparked a decade-long legal battle for custody of Tarra, a battle Buckley ultimately won. It has now been three years since the pair were reunited. In addition to sharing the sanctuary with her adoptive mother and herd mates, Tarra also enjoys the company of dogs Mala and Sammy.

“It’s an interesting feeling,” Buckley said of Tarra reaching this milestone birthday, “because I can tell you, over the years, I worried so much that she was gonna die… I said to her the other day, ’You are almost 50, we’ve done it, we’ve got there!”

Buckley added she expects Tarra has another two decades in her. “As far as I’m concerned, she’s gonna live to at least be 70.”