Decade-long custody battle closes: Beloved elephant will leave TN for GA

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HOHENWALD, Tenn. (WKRN) – A decade-long custody battle for a 7,000-pound animal has come to an end.

“Tarra” the elephant who garnered national attention at the Elephant Sanctuary in Lewis County, will be heading to Georgia. The beloved elephant will soon reunite with her rightful owner.

Tarra was the first animal to call The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald home back in 1995. She was brought there by founder Carol Buckley. The two met back in 1974.

“When I met her, she was less than a year old,” said Buckley.

The two took their show on the road as the first roller skating duo, but after 10 years of entertaining, things changed.

“She was extremely precocious and very outgoing,” recalls Buckley, “a bit pushy when she was little.”

The duo took their final bow and shifted their focus to the animal welfare stage, starting The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.

“She wasn’t enjoying the performing anymore,” Buckley said, “and if she wasn’t enjoying it, then, of course, I’m not having fun either.”

After 15 years, the Board of Directors ousted Buckley, and she immediately sued for wrongful dismissal and visitation rights with Tarra, among other complaints. The legal back-and-forth continued until now.

“That was a dream come true,” remembers Buckley.

The processes ended with this denial of an application for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court of Tennessee.

“Is it unusual to have, essentially a custody battle, linger for more than a decade?” asked News 2’s Alex Denis.

“Yes, it is. It is unusual. In this case, though, there were two jury trials.” said Justin Adams, an attorney for Spencer Fane Bone McAllester.

Ed Yarbrough, also an attorney representing Buckley, said, “The sanctuary really, really did not want to lose Tarra, who they saw as the iconic figure in their sanctuary.”

“I just found out last night, so I’m kind of reeling here right now,” said Buckley.

The Elephant Sanctuary sent News 2 the following statement:

“We are deeply disappointed in the decision of the courts and hope that Tarra, a beloved member of the Sanctuary herd, will be able to remain at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, her home of 26 years.”

The Elephant Sanctuary

Buckley said that won’t be happening. Despite not seeing Tarra in 11 years, Buckley’s continued her work with her organization “Elephant Aid International” and recently opened an 850-acre refuge in South Georgia.

“I actually was out mowing today thinking oh, I gotta make this path and that path and she’s gonna love this, and we already have an elephant here. His name is Bo and she is going to love him,” Buckley said.

Like a proud mama planning for a party, Buckley bubbles with joy ready to make up for lost time with Tarra.

“Tara is coming home.”

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