America’s Odd Couple … still going strong

If you haven’t visited The Elephant Sanctuary at, get on over there. It is such a wonderful place, doing very important work. I have long been captivated by the Odd Couple story of Tarra and Bella, blogging about their story beginning in January 2009.

Tarra & Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends, a book about their special union, was published in September 2009. It is simply fabulous and filled with lots of incredible color photos. Although a children’s book, it is a book that anyone would want in their library to share with others.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

This is their official story:

Tarra the Elephant Forsakes All Others for Canine Love

On January 2, 2009, the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric aired a piece by Steve Hartman, (The Animal Odd Couple) about the unique and enduring friendship between Elephant Sanctuary resident Tarra, a 34-year-old Asian elephant and Bella, a rescued mixed-breed dog.  This story was then posted on and suddenly went global, becoming the most-watched video on the network news website, in addition to becoming a viral phenomenon on YouTube.  The Elephant Sanctuary was flooded by book, television and film offers.  The Tarra and Bella story was featured on websites around the world including Iran, Russia and Australia.  When the Sanctuary posted additional footage on our YouTube channel, the video quickly became the most featured video in over 23 countries.

Tarra was born in Burma in 1974. 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. For the next two decades, Tarra traveled throughout the world entertaining audiences in circus, amusement parks, zoos, on television, and in motion pictures with Carol Buckley.

On March 3, 1995, Tarra’s growing disenchantment with an entertainment lifestyle inspired the creation of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee to rescue old, sick and needy elephants. While she may not be aware of her influence, the Sanctuary has now grown to become the largest of its kind in the nation. In 2002, Tarra again entered the spotlight as the subject of the children’s book “Travels with Tarra” that told the story of her life, written by Carol Buckley.

Bella, the canine half of this odd couple was found abandoned on some newly purchased Sanctuary land, apparently guarding a bulldozer. Bella continued to show her propensity for guarding large “noisy” things, as she then fixated on a 4-wheeler and finally on Tarra. Tarra was ecstatic and the two became inseparable.  Bella finds shelter from the heat under Tarra’s ample belly, and they share a stall in the barn with Bella sleeping on a pile of hay. In April of 2007 Bella suffered a spinal injury chasing wildlife in the habitat and spent several weeks immobile in the barn office.  In the second week of Bella’s recovery, Tarra returned to the barn and uncharacteristically stood silently under the office/recovery ward balcony window.  Caregivers picked up Bella and took her to where Tarra waited, and their reunion was sweet and respectful. This daily reunion took place over the next several days until Bella was able to return to the habitat with Tarra.

Operating on 2,700 acres in Hohenwald, Tennessee, The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee has been developed specifically to provide a place for traumatized elephants to recover from the debilitating experience of captivity. The nonprofit organization, accredited by The Association of Sanctuaries and licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, is designed specifically for old, sick or needy elephants that have been removed from zoos and circuses.

To find out more about the plight of captive elephants, and to monitor the progress of Tarra and Bella and all the residents of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee please visit our website at


UPDATE: I am back blogging about this special duo as The Elephant Sanctuary just updated their status:

It’s been well over a year since Tarra and Bella became celebrities, thanks to their “Odd Couple” story broadcast by CBS News, which is still making the rounds on YouTube. The Sanctuary continues to get inquiries and emails from people around the world, asking if Tarra and Bella are still together and how they are doing. The answer is right here in video, with new footage recorded just this past week. They are both doing great!

As I wrote before, I continue to be concerned about how Tarra will handle one day losing her Bella, as elephants’ life spans mirror ours and Bella’s, of course, is significantly shorter. Elephants, who cry saltwater tears as we do, grieve deeply for those they love. So, I hope the folks at the sanctuary will be able to help her through the process.


6 thoughts on “America’s Odd Couple … still going strong

  1. Thank you so much for these videos…I know there is alot of love between Tarra and her Bella. It is so beautiful to see. I am wondering if you know, also, about Carol Buckley being dismissed by the Board of Directors at the Sanctuary. I wonder what Tarra is thinking about not seeing her Carol, too…..

  2. I just googled her name and found out this from an April press release:

    Carol Buckley, leading elephant authority and co-founder of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, is headed to Asia. Elephant experts from around the world have reached out and asked Buckley to share her expertise and participate in several elephant welfare projects abroad. “I am heartened to have the opportunity to share my knowledge, especially non-dominance, passive-control elephant management with mahouts in Nepal and Thailand. This is a continuation of my life-long work to establish compassionate care of elephants, and to launch my vision of true sanctuary for captive elephants everywhere,” stated Buckley.

    Drawing from the prototype of the 2700 acre natural-habitat elephant sanctuary she co-founded in 1995, Buckley will continue to inspire others to think beyond the boundaries of their own experience to become instruments of change. Increased awareness and sensitivity will naturally lead to the acceptance of free-range elephant sanctuaries worldwide.

    Recently Buckley launched International Elephant Aid, a new nonprofit organization. The mission of International Elephant Aid is to assist elephants worldwide…one elephant at a time. Buckley states: “I believe in the power of one, that every elephant counts.”

    Recently, The Elephant Sanctuary Board of Directors took steps that surprised the thousands of Sanctuary supporters by posting a short statement on the Sanctuary website. “After 15 years of service, the Sanctuary celebrates the contributions of Co-founder and former CEO Carol Buckley, and the Board of Directors of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee announced [today] it is beginning an international search for a CEO of the organization.”

    Supporters and animal experts from around the world have strongly expressed their concerns regarding Buckley’s departure from managing the Sanctuary. Buckley responded, “From what I have been told, which isn’t very much, the answer is quite simple: the Board of Directors wants to make changes. Though I started the Sanctuary with my elephant Tarra, I do not own it. In the past, I held the vision, and the Board supported and worked with me to implement that vision. The Board now has its own vision which seems to veer from the singularly focused true-Sanctuary concept that I support.”

    When asked about her future with the Sanctuary, Buckley responded, “Of course, I am not walking away from “the Girls” or the Sanctuary. For the moment I am walking towards helping to create a better life for elephants world-wide. In my absence a competent team will be working on my behalf.”

    Buckley has more than thirty-five years experience in the care and management of elephants. A well known speaker on elephant care, Buckley has consulted for government agencies and private organizations to improve elephant care programs and strengthen regulations pertaining to the care of elephants in captivity. In 1995, Buckley co-founded the nation’s largest naturalhabitat refuge for old, sick, and needy elephants, and was later honored as A Hero for The Planet by TIME magazine for her innovative work. Buckley is the author of three children’s books about elephants.

    To find out more about Carol Buckley, visit her website at; and to monitor her travels, visit her International Elephant Aid blog at

  3. Rochelle,

    The press release you cited was before it got ugly and the truth came out. From Carol (

    March 19, 2010

    Breaking the silence
    On November 21, 2009 I was placed on an involuntary leave of absence. I was told by the Board that some staff had complained that they felt intimidated by my management style. I was instructed not to speak to staff, media or you, the donors. I voiced my concern about the donors not being told of my status as it was the end-of-year giving time. I did not want to be party to the donors being misled. My concerns fell on deaf ears. I hired an attorney because the Board would not communicate directly with me.

    On January 19, 2010, I was removed as CEO, President, and Board member. I was offered employment as Director of Global Outreach which would effectively remove me from the Sanctuary; from my on-grounds home of 15 years and my access to the elephants, including Tarra. This job would further restrict me from doing any elephant welfare work in the United States.

    Even though the request was made numerous times, the Board refused to mediate. Elephant experts from around the world wrote letters of support asking the Board to reconsider. Among them were Cynthia Moss of Ambosili Trust, Joyce Poole of Elephant Voices, Gay Bradshaw renowned expert in elephant Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Will Travers of The Born Free Foundation. Also former Executive Council Emeritus Presidents of The Elephant Sanctuary wrote letters of concern regarding Board action and asking for mediation. All communications to the Board went unacknowledged.

    On March 17, 2010, I was called into the office of Mary Baker, Acting CEO. I was terminated from the Sanctuary.

    As you can probably imagine I never thought that this could happen at my beloved Sanctuary that I envisioned, co-founded and built. When I was put on leave, removed as CEO, President and Board member, I was restricted from communicating with donors. These past four months of silence have weighed heavily on me. I had hoped through mediation or some reasonable action the Board would have found a solution. At this time I feel a moral and ethical responsibility to inform you of the situation. Your support and trust in me has been the life blood of the Sanctuary and for all you have done I am eternally grateful.

    Carol Buckley

  4. Yes, we have all been following Carol’s overseas work with the elephants. But she is home now….and wants to be with her girls again. The Sanctuary has to know those elephants need her….she is their voice and she was….is… always for them.

  5. I had no idea what was going on ‘politically’. I have had a similar experience with a rescue organization, and let it go because I knew that the work being done by the group was far more important than the politics that characterizes any organization hierarchy. If I compare it to my own experience, I would bet that Carol did absolutely nothing wrong beyond access too much power in the eyes of her colleagues at the sanctuary. I am sure that this was not her goal, just one that occurred because of the massive interest generated by her work.

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