Elephant Aid International Founder, President and CEO Carol Buckley is an internationally recognized authority in the retirement, 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.
In 1974, Carol was studying exotic animal management at a local college when she met Tarra, a young elephant calf who had been taken from her mother and home in Burma and was being used as the mascot of a chain of tire dealerships.
Carol soon became Tarra’s caregiver and then her owner. They’ve been a team ever since.
During their first 20 years together, Carol and Tarra performed throughout the U.S., Canada and abroad in zoos and circuses. Carol also developed and managed elephant programs for zoos and theme parks through the U.S. and Canada.
Living and working together, Tarra gave Carol profound insight into the psyche and emotional needs of elephants. Carol used what she learned to create educational programs and improve elephant welfare standards everywhere she and Tarra worked.
The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee
When Tarra was 21, it was clear she had outgrown traveling and performing, which was then the only life afforded a captive-held elephant.
It had been Carol’s long-standing dream to create a way for Tarra to live as natural a life as is possible in captivity. In 1995, Carol co-founded 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 earned international acclaim.
During the next 15 years, 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, Carol coordinated the rescue of eight female elephants, also confiscated by the USDA from the Hawthorn Corporation. It was the single largest rescue of elephants in U.S. history. Carol then designed individualized treatment programs to help them recover from the physical, psychological and emotional effects of nearly four decades of circus life.
Elephant Aid International
In 2009, Carol founded Elephant Aid International (EAI) and began spending extensive periods living and working in Asia, while continuing her elephant welfare work in the U.S.
Carol traveled to Thailand, India, Indonesia, Vietnam and Nepal. She taught mahouts [elephant trainers] and owners a new humane management method she created, Compassionate Elephant Care, along with foot care and foot trimming.
Working in Asia gave Carol an even deeper insight into the lives of captive-held elephants. Most are wild caught in their own homeland and forced into serving humans. When not working they are chained to keep them from running away and endangering surrounding communities. They spend hours standing under the scorching sun in their own waste, unable to move more than a few inches in any direction. Many develop foot infections, crippling arthritis and stereotypic behaviors (rocking, bobbing and swaying). Many die sick and broken.
Chain Free Means Pain Free
In 2013, Nepal’s leading conservation NGO, the National Trust for Nature Conservation, asked Carol to design solar powered chain-free night corrals to provide greater autonomy to their anti-poaching patrol elephants.
The project’s success caught the attention of international wildlife researchers, conservationists and the government of Nepal. The country’s Department of Natural Resources and Wildlife Conservation approached Carol and EAI to partner with them in converting their hattisars [elephant stables] in Chitwan National Park to chain-free, making the use of chains obsolete.
Between 2014 and 2016, Carol built 54 multi-acre solar powered chain-free corrals at the government’s 15 hattisars [elephant stables], 13 of them in remote jungle locations, releasing 54 female and juvenile elephants from chains.
Elephant Refuge North America
In December 2016, EAI purchased 850 acres of land in Attapulgus, Georgia, a small town in the southwest of the state, a half-hour from Tallahassee, Florida, to create Elephant Refuge North America.
- Created the first natural habitat elephant sanctuary in the U.S., where elephants were neither chained nor dominated and lived with full autonomy.
- Provided sanctuary to the first elephant seized by the USDA for animal welfare violations.
- Coordinated the largest single rescue of elephants in U.S. history.
- Designed and built the first solar powered chain-free elephant corral in Asia.
- Partnered with the government of Nepal to help the country become the first in Asia to release its elephants from chains.
- Carol was presented the Golden Sun award at the 24th Barcelona International Environmental Film Festival (FICMA) for her efforts to educate, sensitize and raise consciousness about the situation of elephants and for her work for their dignity. (2017)
- Carol and her work to improve elephant welfare in Asia are the subject of an award-winning documentary film, “Unchained.” (2017)
- 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. (2014)
- Tennessee chose Tarra and Bella to represent the state at the Library of Congress National Book Festival in Washington, DC. (2012)
- Received a Genesis Award in recognition of her innovative work (2001) and was 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 the paper, “Adaptation/Rehabilitation of Captive-Held Elephants”
- authored three popular children’s books on elephants