Elephant Refuge North America

When Elephant Aid International (EAI) President & CEO Carol Buckley co-founded The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee in 1995, she created a new model that came to define the gold standard for elephant care in captivity. Now, EAI's Elephant Refuge North America will build on the experience gained at both accredited US sanctuaries over the past two decades, as well as what EAI has learned from our projects in Asia. As a result we will advance existing standards, marking another huge step for elephant welfare.

Although a growing number of zoos and many circuses have stopped exhibiting elephants, the retirement of elephants to “true” sanctuaries has nearly come to a standstill in the U.S. Elephants are being sent to facilities that are sanctuaries in name only. Without true sanctuaries standing ready to receive elephants, rescue efforts by animal welfare organizations cannot come to a successful conclusion. As a result, elephants languish in less than suitable situations for extended periods of time or are not rescued at all. Now more than ever land is needed.

The first time EAI Founder Carol Buckley built a sanctuary, she started with a dream and 100 acres in rural Tennessee. In 15 years, she grew it into a state-of-the-art, 2700-acre natural habitat elephant sanctuary, the first and the largest in history. Under our stewardship, Elephant Refuge North America will provide rescue and rehabilitation for elephants in an elegantly simple and sustainable format, as well as an international education center. Drawing on decades of experience living and working closely with elephants and designing their facilities, combined with the scientific knowledge gained over the last half-century about the needs of captive elephants, EAI is creating a new sustainable, eco-friendly, natural habitat home, where captive-held elephants will not merely survive, they will thrive in lives of freedom and autonomy.

EAI's mission is to raise awareness of the lives of all elephants in captivity. Elephant Refuge North America will advance this mission while it provides a sanctuary for elephants and contributes to the growing body of knowledge of animal welfare through non-invasive, observational research and educational outreach.
In December 2016 we closed on land for our new home Elephant Refuge North America: 850 acres of lush pastures, dense forests, several spring-fed lakes, refreshing streams, and soul-reviving privacy in Attapulgus, Georgia, near the border of Florida. The land is well suited for elephants, as it receives nearly 50 inches of rain annually and is blessed with hot humid summers, mild winters and is comprised of a diverse habitat with varied topography. Elephants are migratory by nature and thrive in an environment which challenges them mentally and physically, and this land has it all. It promises to be a place where elephants, once held in chains and small enclosures, will explore for hours, day and night. The padded floor of the pine forest will provide a cushioned bed for elephants to sleep while the pastures allow natural food for the elephants to eat. The freedom to decide what to do, when, where and with whom, will restore their mind, body and spirit. The land will also be home to an education center for mahouts and handlers around the globe to learn our compassion-based approach to elephant training and management. 

Take a tour of the property:


Carol Buckley, an international leader in the care and trauma recovery of elephants, is founder and President/CEO of Elephant Aid International. With more than thirty years experience working with elephants in captivity, Carol is known for her extensive knowledge of elephant values, physiology and culture. She has developed revolutionary non-dominant management systems and holistic healthcare programs that support the recovery of elephants while ensuring their autonomy. Carol co-founded The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, the first natural habitat refuge for sick, old and needy elephants, which is internationally known for its integrative holistic approach to medical care and recovery. In her fifteen years at the Sanctuary, she was responsible for bringing twenty-four elephants to sanctuary, and coordinated the rescue of the first elephant ever confiscated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). In another unprecedented event, Carol coordinated the rescue of a group of eight female elephants confiscated from the Hawthorn Corporation by the USDA. She designed individualized treatment programs to help them recover from the physical, psychological and emotional effects of nearly four decades of circus life.


Before founding The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, Carol operated her own elephant management company, Tarra Productions, performing throughout the US, Canada and abroad in a number of circuses, including Circus Gatini in Quebec, Canada, and the Big Apple Circus in New York City. She has worked and consulted with zoos, including African Lion Safari and Bowmanville Zoo in Ontario, Canada; the Racine Zoo in Wisconsin; and the Chehaw Wild Animal Park in Albany, Georgia. She has also created and managed elephant programs for Marriott’s Great America Theme Park, Knott’s Berry Farm Theme Park, Santa Barbara Zoo, Kansas City Zoo, Nashville Zoo and Granby Zoo.

A leading spokesperson and expert witness for elephant care and protection internationally, Carol works with government agencies and private organizations to strengthen regulations protecting the welfare of elephants in captivity. She is a highly regarded global lecturer on the management, care and recovery of elephants in captivity. She received a 2001 Genesis Award in recognition of her innovative work and has been named a Hero for The Planet by Time magazine and an Ambassador for Elephants by Asian Elephants Today.  Carol has contributed chapters to The Elephant’s Foot: Prevention and Care of Foot Conditions in Captive Asian and African Elephants and An Elephant in the Room: The Science and Well-Being of Elephants in Captivity. She co-authored an article, “The Art of Cultural Brokerage: Recreating Elephant-Human Relationship and Community,” for the Spring 2010 issue of Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture, and has authored three popular children’s books on elephants.

To learn more about Carol visit carolbuckley.com and read her Elevisions blog, or read what Carol’s colleagues say about her work.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have found my passion early in life. Four decades of working to improve elephant welfare has been a blessing and an honor.

Tarra, aka Fluffie, is a female Asian elephant born in Burma, Asia. In 1974, when Tarra was only six months old, she was prematurely weaned and separated from her mother when she was sold to an animal broker who imported her into the United States. Tarra was flown in a small wooden crate from Thailand to California by cargo plane. A local businessman in Simi Valley, Ca. purchased Tarra, and named her Fluffie. She spent the next year and a half living in the back of a delivery truck in the parking lot of a tire dealer store by day, and a single-family residential home driveway by night. Shortly after Tarra’s arrival in the USA, the Asian elephant was declared an endangered species, and all future importation of Asian elephants into America was halted. Carol Buckley, a first year student attending an exotic animal management course at a nearby college, learned of Fluffie’s existence and became her volunteer caretaker. She arranged for Fluffie to spend a limited time on exhibit at the tire store, a few hours each Saturday and Sunday. The remainder of the week Fluffie was housed away from the tire store under Carol’s care. By the time Fluffie was two years old, Carol, her full-time caretaker, purchased her and changed her name to Tarra. For the next two decades, Carol and Tarra traveled throughout the world “entertaining” audiences in circuses, amusement parks, zoos, on television, and in motion pictures. When not performing, Carol and Tarra lived in the small mountain town of Ojai, California, on a private compound located in the Los Padres National Forest. In 1980, Tarra became the world’s only roller-skating elephant, a talent that served to display her intelligence, coordination, and grace. But it soon became apparent to Carol that although Tarra enjoyed playing on skates it sent the wrong message. Carol decided to retire Tarra’s skating routine and concentrated on a more educational presentation. In the 80s, Tarra’s engagements were primarily in zoos with an emphasis on education. Although very athletic, Tarra’s abilities were not limited to sports. In 1986, “Tarra originals,” custom watercolor artwork created by Tarra, were displayed at her hometown gallery.

After ten years of envisioning an elephant sanctuary, Carol made her dream came true. This was to be her and Tarra’s forever home. On March 3, 1995, after twenty-one years of entertaining the public, Tarra retired from show business, becoming the first resident of The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee. In order to purchase the land and make necessary improvements to rescue needy elephants, Carol mortgaged the California home where she and Tarra had lived. It too was a magnificent piece of property nestled in the Los Padres National Forest, but Carol realized that in order to make her Sanctuary dream come true there would be many sacrifices. Funds were tight and the pressure was great to complete the facilities needed to rescue needy elephants. She used her life’s savings to underwrite the monthly mortgage payments on the Sanctuary property, the many improvements to the property, and Tarra’s continued care until the organization’s membership grew and more elephants arrived. For fifteen years, Tarra immersed herself in the habitat while Carol worked diligently, spreading the word about her dream. They met in the middle with frequents visits and walks in the habitat. Carol’s vision was shared by many people who gave generously of their time and money. As  result the Sanctuary grew from 112 to 2700 acres, from a small two-stall barn to three subdivided habitats for African elephants, Asian elephants and elephants in need of quarantine. Tarra maintained her position as ambassador for the Sanctuary, greeting each new resident as she arrived.  Relationship was recognized as the single most important component to each elephant’s rehabilitation and recovery. Being long lived, highly intelligent and emotional beings, the elephants and their caregivers formed strong bonds of trust and companionship. The multiple-decade long relationship shared between Carol and Tarra deepened and soon included all members of the herd; they became a family.

In the spring of 2010, after Carol had served elephants and the Sanctuary with unwavering dedication for fifteen years, the Sanctuary’s Board of Directors made a drastic decision. It removed Carol, and one year later her co-founder Scott Blais, and changed the fundamental philosophy and practices on which the Sanctuary had been founded. The Sanctuary departed from its core focus on the emotional needs of the elephants first and foremost, with steel fencing and restraint chutes replacing elephant-caregiver relationships. The magnitude of this unexpected takeover sent shockwaves through the animal welfare community. Tarra has not been allowed to see Carol since April of 2010. The effect this has had on Tarra is not documented. Carol filed a lawsuit in order to reunite the two, and a judge is expected to make a ruling before January 2017.

Above: Carol, with Tarra and Bella.


Elephant Aid International (EAI), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, was established to create a paradigm shift that will foster change in beliefs and approaches to the care and management of elephants. Elephant Aid International works hands-on with mahouts, NGO’s, tourist facilities, elephant welfare groups, researchers and government officials in joint efforts to effect change by improving elephant welfare in captivity and in situ, as well as the lives of mahouts and their families who care for elephants. EAI’s work is based on understanding the culture and traditions of the countries in which it works, respect for elephants and the men and women who live and work with them, and the knowledge that small changes can make a huge difference. EAI has pioneered a new system, Compassionate Elephant Care, which eliminates antiquated, dominance-based training and result in improved elephant welfare. With the combined efforts of international scientists, veterinarians, mahouts, elephant caregivers and elephant welfare supporters, EAI is helping to change how the public relates to elephants; how mahouts (elephant handlers) and elephant caregivers train elephants; and how captive elephants are cared for worldwide. By providing education and hands-on assistance, EAI is working to end the worldwide suffering of elephants… one elephant at a time. Carol founded Elephant Aid International (EAI) in November 2009 to raise global consciousness about the lives of elephants both in captivity and in the wild. EAI’s first projects take place in Southeast Asia, where elephants and humans have a long history of coexistence. Richly woven into the fabric of Asian culture, elephants play a role in religion, economics, tribal life and, in recent times, tourism. Revered as gods, honored as a national heritage animal and protected as an endangered species, elephants are never far from the consciousness of the people. But the fabric that has tied human and elephants together has begun to unravel. The problem is survival, as humans and elephants compete for limited land and food resources. Both sides have suffered casualties in the resulting conflict, which threatens to destroy this highly endangered species. Asian governments are now grappling with how elephants and people can coexist. What happens in the coming months and years will determine whether elephants will have a place in a rapidly developing world and what that place will be. The time is ripe with possibility. To learn more about EAI please click here.


 We are currently awaiting the judge’s ruling on Tarra’s ownership, expected to happen before January 2017.

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Concrete mix, security wire and wood posts for fencing, landscape tools, a wheel barrow, an ATV, Lowes gift cards, and a phone system.


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