The Supreme Court of Tennessee Denies The Sanctuary’s Appeal for a Retrial in Custody Trial of Asian Elephant, Tarra


October 20, 2021

The Supreme Court of Tennessee has denied The Elephant Sanctuary’s appeal for a retrial in the custody case of Asian elephant, Tarra. The courts have decided that legal custody of Tarra lies with Carol Buckley, who will have the choice to allow Tarra to remain at The Sanctuary or to transfer her to another facility.

“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,” said Janice Zeitlin, CEO of The Elephant Sanctuary.

In 2014, Buckley asked the court to declare her the legal owner of Tarra, allowing her the right to remove Tarra from The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. The Sanctuary petitioned the court to recognize Tarra as a member of The Sanctuary’s family of elephants and entrust The Sanctuary with her permanent care. The motion and counter-motion were heard and a jury trial took place in August 2018, ending in a hung jury and declared a mistrial. A second jury trial took place April 2019, ending in Buckley’s favor. The Sanctuary filed a motion for a new trial, which was granted by the trial court. On June 16, 2021, the Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed the decision to grant The Sanctuary a new trial. The Sanctuary made an application for permission to appeal to the Supreme Court of Tennessee, which was denied on October 18, 2021.

Tarra was born in Burma (now Myanmar) in 1974. At six months old, she was captured from the wild and brought to the United States in a wooden crate via cargo plane. Tarra was sold to a tire salesman, who put her on exhibition at his store in southern California. Soon after, Carol Buckley gained possession of Tarra and she spent the next two decades travelling, performing, and on exhibition in circuses, amusement parks, zoos, on TV, and in movies before retiring to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, founded for her in 1995 by Buckley and Scott Blais. The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee has been home to Tarra, now 47 years old, for more than half of her life.

Located on 3,060 acres in Hohenwald, TN, The Sanctuary is the nation’s largest natural-habitat refuge developed specifically for elephants retired from performance and exhibition. Founded in 1995, The Sanctuary is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, and is the only elephant facility that has been dually recognized through accreditation by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and certification by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

For more information about The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, please visit

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