Tarra the Roller Skating Elephant by Craig Walker
Ojai has had many unusual residents over the years that have brought the attention of the outside world to our little valley. Recently, “Earth Friend Gen” got a lot of attention by stripping down to nearly nothing and roller skating through Ojai. But “Earth Friend Gen” was not the first resident to bring fame to Ojai by roller skating naked around town. That honor goes to a talented pachyderm named Tarra who, along with her owner-trainer Carol Buckley, lived in Matilija Canyon during the late 1970s and early 80s.
Tarra and Carol met in Simi Valley in 1974 when Tarra was less than one year old. Carol was a student in the Moorpark College animal training program and Tarra had just arrived from Burma. They soon became a much sought after performing team and moved to Berry Flats, up Matilija Canyon, in 1979. For ten years Tarra, Carol and a host of adopted family members, including dogs, goats, cats, birds — and for a short time a horse and a mule — made up Tarra’s family.
Matilija Lake, the Ventura River, and surrounding wilderness were Tarra’s playground.
Soon after moving to Ojai, Tarra became the world’s only roller skating elephant. Her celebrity took her around the world, always with Carol and her family in tow.
Many Ojai residents who grew up in the 1980s reminisced about Tarra on Facebook recently. Matt Meiners posted, “Remember the show ‘Real People’? Tara was on that show once. Tara lived in Matilija Canyon. One time (about 1985-6) we were driving up Matilija canyon Rd, (That steep hill off Hwy 33), and Tara was skating DOWN that hill!! There were 3-4 guys on horses with ropes holding her back…it freaked me out as I turned the corner…”LOOK, there’s an elephant on roller skates coming down the hill!!”
Betsy Michaels remembered seeing Tarra roller skating in the Ojai Independence Day Parade. Elyse Dashew added, “I think she was on the Academy Awards once, too. We would occasionally see her rollerskating down the street. One of my many Ojai fond memories.”
Ruben Duarte wrote, “I drove by in my truck on Main St. and saw [Tarra] in Libbey Park; I could hardly believe my eyes! haha”
Tarra and Carol left Ojai in the late 1980s. In 1991, Tarra was successfully bred in Ontario, Canada, but at the end of a two-year pregnancy, Tarra delivered a stillborn calf.
In 1995 Tarra retired from entertaining audiences. She gave up roller skating, but continued with another hobby–painting. Tara’s original watercolors have been featured in exhibitions around the world and now hang in many zoos across the country.
To give Tarra and other elephants a home, Carol created the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. Carol, the elephant’s lifetime companion and guardian, gave Tarra full credit as the inspiration for the Sanctuary.
According to Carol, “Life was like a fairytale, with 23 elephants joining Tarra over the next fifteen years. Tarra thrived, developing close bonds with her sister elephants, caregivers and one special stray dog named Bella. These two became inseparable.” The relationship between Tarra and Bella was covered extensively in the media, including a CBS special with Katie Couric.
In 2009 a power shift at the Sanctuary resulted in Carol being fired and denied access to Tarra.
Recently, tragedy struck again when Tarra’s dear dog Bella was killed by a pack of canines. Tarra struggles to deal with her loss.
Today the Sanctuary Board still refuses to allow Carol to visit Tarra, leaving Tarra to wonder whether her oldest friend has abandoned her.
Carol hopes that this will not be the end of the story. Tarra and Carol have shared a relationship like no other, nearly four decades of love and support. Carol wishes only that she would be allowed to see and comfort her dear Tarra in her time of need.
After being ousted from the Sanctuary, Carol founded Elephant Aid International www.elephantaid.org to help needy elephants worldwide.
The award winning children’s books, Tarra and Bella, the elephant and dog who became best friends, and Travels with Tarra, both authored by Carol, are for sale on her web site www.carolbuckley.com
Further information about Tarra and Carol can be found at Carol Buckley’s website, www.carolbuckley.com, and the Elephant Sanctuary’s website: http://www.elephants.com/tarra/tarraBio.php.