Elephant Aid International Founder, President and CEO Carol Buckley is an internationally recognized authority in the rescue, rehabilitation and welfare of captive-held elephants. Buckley creates innovative models that set new standards of care for elephants in captivity.
With more than 40 years experience working with captive-held elephants, Buckley 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.
A leading spokesperson and expert witness for elephant care and protection nationally and internationally, Buckley works with governmental agencies and private organizations to strengthen regulations protecting the welfare of elephants in captivity.
The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee
In 1995, Buckley realized a long-standing dream by co-founding America’s first and largest natural habitat elephant sanctuary, The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. Under Carol’s leadership, the Sanctuary’s integrative, holistic approach to medical care and trauma recovery received international acclaim.
In her 15 years at the Sanctuary, Carol rescued 23 elephants, including organizing and coordinating the rescue of the first elephant ever confiscated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
In another unprecedented event, Buckley coordinated the rescue of eight female elephants confiscated from the Hawthorn Corporation by the USDA, the single largest rescue of elephants in U.S. history. She then 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, which she named after the elephant who became her partner and inspiration. They met in 1975 when Carol was studying exotic animal management at a nearby college and Tarra, a young calf taken from her mother and home in Burma, was the mascot of a tire dealership.
Carol soon became Tarra’s caregiver and then her owner. They’ve been a team ever since, Tarra teaching Carol about the needs of her species.
During their first 20 years together, Carol and Tarra performed throughout the U.S., Canada and abroad in a number of circuses and zoos.
They developed and managed elephant programs for zoos, including for African Lion Safari and Bowmanville Zoo in Ontario, Canada; Racine Zoo in Wisconsin; and Chehaw Wild Animal Park in Albany, Georgia. Carol 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.
Sharing her life with Tarra gave Carol profound insight into the psyche and emotional needs of elephants, which she used in creating educational programs and improving elephant welfare standards everywhere they worked.
When Tarra was 21, it was clear she had outgrown the only life then afforded a captive-held elephant. Carol sought to give Tarra as natural a life as is possible in captivity, leading her to create The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.
- Carol and her work to improve elephant welfare in Asia are the subject of an award-winning documentary film, “Unchained”.
- Care2 named Carol one of 9 Women Saving the Planet, along with Jane Goodall, oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, “Blackfish” director Gabriella Cowperwaith and designer Stella McCartney. (2015)
- Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library chose Tarra and Bella as one of the books it sent to children turning five. (2015)
- Tarra and Bella won first place in the Oregon Reading Association Patricia Gallagher Children’s Choice Picture Book Award competition (2015).
- The government of Nepal presented Carol an Award of Recognition for helping the country become the first in Asia to release its elephants from chains. Elephant Aid International installed 54 solar powered chain-free corrals at the government’s elephant facilities, making the use of chains obsolete. (2014)
- Tennessee chose Tarra and Bella to represent the state at the Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington, DC. (2012)
- Carol received a Genesis Award in recognition of her innovative work (2001) and has been named a Hero for The Planet by Time magazine and an Ambassador for Elephants by Asian Elephants Today.
- Carol has been the subject of numerous features in the New York Times Magazine, Parade, National Geographic, Chicago Tribune, People and Readers Digest. Her work has been featured on Oprah, ABC News 20/20, CBS News, CNN, the Canadian Broadcast Corp. and many others.
- contributed chapters to The Elephant’s Foot: Prevention and Care of Foot Conditions in Captive Asian and African Elephants (Iowa State University Press, 2001) and An Elephant in the Room: The Science and Well-Being of Elephants in Captivity (Center for Animals and Public Policy, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, Tufts University, 2009).
- 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
- authored three popular children’s books on elephants