.Sanctuary in Custody Fight Over Elephant
Tarra, a 36-year-old Asian elephant at the sanctuary in rural Tennessee founded 15 years ago by Carol Buckley, a former circus performer, and Scott Blais.
By MALCOLM GAY Published: October 27, 2010
HOHENWALD, Tenn. — They’re fighting like elephants.
A territorial feud that sounds like something out of the African savannah has erupted in rural Tennessee between Carol Buckley, one of the world’s leading authorities on elephant rehabilitation, and the sanctuary she co-founded 15 years ago.
This month, Ms. Buckley, 56, filed a lawsuit against the Elephant Sanctuary after its board fired her as president and chief executive, ejected her from her home on sanctuary grounds and barred her from visiting Tarra, the 36-year-old Asian elephant she raised from a calf.
The Elephant Sanctuary is the country’s first natural-habitat refuge for aging elephants — many bearing scars from lives spent living and performing in captivity — where they roam free, perhaps reclaiming part of their true elephant nature. It is a model for havens worldwide, and the dispute has rocked the normally tame world of animal conservation. Experts have written in support of Ms. Buckley, and some of the sanctuary’s roughly 85,000 members have stopped donating.
At the center of the dispute is the custody battle for Tarra, the elephant that served as inspiration for this vast landscape of gentle hills and fresh streams.
“They’ve taken everything: my dog, my bird, my cat, my home, my life’s work — my elephant,” said Ms. Buckley, who has moved to a house not far from the sanctuary. She added: “It’s not real. It can’t be real.”
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