Tarra the Roller Skating Elephant

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Posted by Craig Walker on November 15, 2011

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 starred in "Little House on the Prairie".

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.

Tarra, the world's only roller skating elephant.

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 in Matilija Canyon.

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.

Tarra the artist.

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.

Tarra and Bella

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.

Comments (10)

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Rita Stevenson November 15, 2011 at 12:44 pm

What a wonderful story!.
Howver, I still dont udnerstand how TES can LEGALY with hold
Tara from Carol Buckley, Carol is her rightful GUARDIAN.

william Pucci November 15, 2011 at 2:29 pm

The TES stole Tarra and the Sanctuary from Carol. Of all times to keep Carol and Tarra apart would be after Tarra lost Bella and is wondering where Carol is. May the TES see there way to letting these two friends see each other before Tarra suffers anymore.God Bless Tarra

Cindy Wines November 15, 2011 at 4:04 pm

I agree Rita. I don’t understand how they can stop her from seeing her beloved Tarra either since she is HER elephant. She is grieving for the loss of her little Bella. It is not fair and there are no expert elephant caretakers there. That may be why there was a stray pack of dogs at TES. How did that happen and why wasn’t someone watching little Bella? So sad, so sad. 🙁

G. Johnson November 15, 2011 at 6:26 pm

Animals are legally considered “property.” This disgusting aspect of the law seems to be what TES board and administration embrace. The loss of Carol to the sanctuary SHE created is such an INJUSTICE. William Pucci said it perfectly: “The TES stole Tarra and the Sanctuary from Carol.” In the U.S. you can start a humane project in the form of a non-profit, like Carol did, take nothing for a salary, then lose it to the ???-minds of board members. Very curious why TES hasn’t posted 2010 financial information on their website and instead only post 2009 financials for when Carol and Scott ran TES http://www.elephants.com/reports.php. $12 per hour was what they paid themselves (pg 7) to run this incredible project. 2010 was when Carol got ousted. Where are the financials for 2010? Anybody know?

Drew Mashburn November 17, 2011 at 8:59 am

In about 1967 or ’68 (I was 16 years old), I was asked by my younger buddy, Joe Silvestri, to drive my ’49 Chevrolet pickup to the Selby ranch on Upper Santa Ana Road near Lake Casitas to pick up some bales of hay for his sisters’ horses. We got there and loaded a few bales into the small bed of my primer-red pickup. Then, Joe told me he wanted to show me something. He led me into an old wooden-sided barn and, to my surprise, there was a baby elephant in a straw-lined horse stall that was lit with heat-lamps. I remember it seemed almost surreal seeing the elephant standing there in a barn. Evidently, Ol’ Man Selby had always wanted an elephant, so his kids bought one for him. I have no idea whatever became of that baby elephant. So, Tara was not the first pachyderm to inhabit the Ojai Valley.

Cooper Jeff November 17, 2011 at 1:10 pm

As a kid growing up in Ojai I also saw Tarra, My brother and I had sent her story to an old TV show Called “Real People”. They came out to film her and we both got a T-shirt for it.

Crystal November 18, 2011 at 6:02 am

This started out the most beautiful story, then brought tears to my eyes. People don’t realize how important humans are to them and Carol should never have been taken out of Tara’s life. It is so sad because Elephants are the closest creature to a human and their emotions are probably stronger than ours. Carol should NEVER have been taken away from Tara and now that Bella has been tragically killed, Carol should see her for sure. It would give her a sence from her past and bring loving memories that might ease the pain from losing not only one best friend but 2…. I would appeal that garbage and at least allow her visits!!!!! Just my 2 cents!!!!

Kathy, Kindred Spirit Ojai December 1, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Geeeez Carol. That is awful. I saw this on TV and just knew it was our Tarra. She came from our beautiful valley full of spirit. She is an amazing animal. I just can’t believe that they won’t let you be with her. I am going to contact those fools and give them what for. xoxoxo

Carol Buckley September 25, 2014 at 1:57 pm

Nice article, brought back lot’s of pleasant memories. Tarra and I lived in Ojai for nearly 10 years. During that time we spent many hours hiking around Matilija Lake. It was a quiet place and usually not a person in sight. Our entire family always tagged along, which at times included dogs, African pygmy goats, a miniature donkey and, for a short time, a quarter horse. It was quite a scene when we dashed across Hwy 33 and ran up the steep one-lane-road leading to Matilija lake. What really surprised the occasional passerby was that none of the animals were on leashes. Not even the horse. As far as Matt Meiner’s comment “Tara was skating DOWN that hill!! There were 3-4 guys on horses with ropes holding her back …” Well, people always did get quite excited whenever they saw Tarra and her menagerie. But, I can tell you that Tarra never skated down that hill, or any other hill for that matter. And there were no guys on horses with ropes holding her back. But, it makes for a pretty funny story though.

Carol Buckley September 25, 2014 at 2:21 pm

It is heart warming to see so many people remember Tarra fondly from so long ago. One thing we always regretted was not being able to appear in holiday parades in Ojai. Holidays were our busy season and we were always out of town working. But, one year in the mid 80′, a young African elephant named Akili stayed on our property while Tarra and I performed in the Big Apple Circus in NYC. When Akili walked in the Ojai Parade that year, many people mistook her for Tarra.

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