The Elephant Sanctuary

year 2, week 33:  this week i'm gonna... save elephants

Tarra the elephant was born in Burma (now Myanmar) in 1974. When she was six months old, she was brought to the United States in a wooden crate via cargo plane. She was sold to a tire salesman in Southern California who kept her in a delivery truck. Shortly after Tarra’s arrival in the US, the Asian elephant was declared an endangered species, and all future importation of Asian elephants into America was halted. 



At two years old, Tarra was purchased by Carol Buckley. She was trained to perform, give rides, and became known for roller skating and painting. Carol and Tarra traveled around working in circuses, amusement parks, zoos, on TV, and in movies for the next two decades. In 1995, Carol decided that Tarra and other elephants deserved a different life. She partnered with Scott Blais to found The Elephant Sanctuary, and Tarra became the first resident.

Elephants who have lived their lives in captivity have an opportunity at The Sanctuary to live in an expansive habitat that allows for a range of natural behaviors. Many of the elephants suffer long-term health and behavioral issues common to elephants that have spent their lives performing, such as tuberculosis, obesity, arthritis, aggression, and captivity-associated stress. Because elephants have complex physical and social needs, successful outcomes are measured not only by the elephant’s physical health, but also their social, behavioral, and psychological well-being. 

Tarra has been at The Elephant Sanctuary for 21 years. She has welcomed many of the newly retired elephants, trumpeting and spinning excitedly as the transport trailer arrived at the barn with a new resident. Caregivers refer to Tarra as a social butterfly -- an elephant that seeks out all the other elephants in the Asia habitat for visits and companionship. It is common for Tarra to walk miles on any given day to visit other elephants or to explore on her own.  

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The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee exists to provide captive elephants with individualized care, the companionship of a herd, and the opportunity to live out their lives in a safe haven dedicated to their well-being. They seek to raise public awareness of the complex needs of elephants in captivity and the crisis facing elephants in the wild.

Since 1995, The Sanctuary has provided refuge for 27 elephants who are retired from zoos and circuses. There are currently 10 elephant residents with room for more. The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee began on 200 acres and has grown to three separate and protected natural habitats spanning over more than 2,700 acres.

In the wild, elephants are migratory, walking many miles each day. They form intricate family structures and grieve for their dead in a complex way. They show humor and express compassion. The reality of their lives in captivity is that many are in chains for 18 hours a day and controlled by fear and intimidation. The Elephant Sanctuary’s mission is to give elephants the freedom they deserve.

Sissy with her tire

Sissy with her tire

The Sanctuary’s expansive habitat areas allow elephants the freedom to choose where, how, and with whom they spend their time. For some elephants, socialization comes slowly. At The Sanctuary, each elephant is afforded the space to build relationships at their own pace. 

After a few months at The Sanctuary, an elephant named Sissy found a lifelong companion. Captured in Thailand as a calf, Sissy spent three lonely decades as the focal point of a zoo in Gainesville, TX, surviving a record flood after being submerged for a day and a half with only her trunk above water allowing her to breathe.

Sissy was eventually moved to the El Paso Zoo. Her condition was videotaped and leaked to the local press. The El Paso community spoke out, and the decision was made for Sissy to be retired to The Elephant Sanctuary.

Winkie and Sissy

Winkie and Sissy

Sissy arrived on January 26, 2000, joining Tarra and four other elephant residents. Reserved and cautious at first, Sissy carried a tire with her for security everywhere she went, a behavior left over from the many years she spent alone at the zoo. Sissy soon began to venture farther out into the habitat, socializing with the others. A few months later Winkie arrived, and the two became fast friends. One day, Sissy finally put down the tire. Although she periodically will interact with tires when used as enrichment, she no longer requires one for security. She is safe.

Notes for this week:

  • World Elephant Day is August 12th!
  • Our collective givetwig donation will feed all ten elephants at the Sanctuary for two days.
  • For more information on The Elephant Sanctuary, please check out their website.

this week i'm gonna donate to The Elephant Sanctuary.

please share the givetwig awesomeness!