Over twenty years ago, I had friends that lived in the canyon behind my home. Up the winding road, outside of town, they had a cozy property with a pool, making it ideal for summer parties. Next door lived a young woman about my age who cohabitated with many captive animals. She seemed to be attracted to tropical species, and I remember feeling badly for the beautiful birds and other small animals living in cages in that canyon in California, far from their native homes and original families. The area was awash with native life, in particular a variety of flying bugs, that survived well in the dry, high heat of summer and the cold, bitter temperatures of winter there — hardly suitable for tropical beings. I never knew if they were all rescued or had been acquired, but I did find out that the woman living there had ties to the Moorpark College Exotic Animal program. I remember envying her life among the animals. Not only were there several dogs and the caged animals, but there was a magnificent Burmese elephant named Tarra.
A Connection That Claimed My Heart
When I first met Tarra, she showed off by crushing soda cans with her trunk, then dropping them and checking me out with her whiskery snout. She was a lovely, gentle being who had to use great restraint when walking among us fragile, relatively tiny humans,and I was the tiniest of them all, weighing barely 90 lbs and reaching up to five feet tall if I stood very straight. We walked down to the creek, and Tarra sprayed us all and enjoyed the water. She was oh-so-careful about moving among us non-elephants. When it was time to go, she claimed my heart by standing on my sandals so I could not leave. I felt the same way.
Later, when her caretaker was out of town, my friends and I were charged with watching Tarra. I remember her running away from us once, toward the road, terrifying us lest she run into traffic, get injured, or cause an accident. But she was only romping, enjoying the sun, and relishing giving us a bit of a chase. She had a lot of spirit then. It seemed sad to me then and still does now that this magnificent herd animal was living in such an alien, inhospitable land, alone, away from her clan, without much to do for entertainment or that gave her consolation or joy. I had no idea that in the wild she would be traversing many miles per day with the company of her herd. It was only recently that I learned how hard her entire life had been. She had been torn from her mother at only one year of age, then left in the back of a truck for the year following that, and finally taken for use in entertainment by the young woman I mentioned earlier in this post. Tarra had to work for her living, and she roller-skated and painted her way through the years. Tarra found her way to an elephant sanctuary, where she famously became best friends with a canine. Her beloved dog friend, Bella, recently died, leaving Tarra bereaved.
Looking for an Old Friend in All The Wrong Places
I tried to find Tarra several times before, but I was looking in the wrong places. I had seen the viral video (above) on YouTube of Tarra the elephant who had befriended a dog, but that elephant lived in Tennessee and Tarra had been a California girl, like me. A recent search, inspired after witnessing the sad spectacle of elephants in a forced parade through a European town, gave me the determination to find Tarra this time. It is comforting to know she is in a place where she no longer has to entertain humans, and where she can live with others of her species. Although for Tarra, she seems ahead of all of us when it comes to non-speciesist living — species hasn’t mattered too much. She has always been able to see beyond our exterior to the person beneath the skin and fur.