E is for Elephant

E is for Elephant

Elephant    noun

Oxford Dictionary definition:  Largest living land animal with trunk and ivory tusks.

Our definition:  Elephants are large mammals of the family Elephantidae and the order Proboscidea.  Two species are traditionally recognised: the African elephant and the Asian elephant.  Male African elephants are the largest surviving terrestrial [land] animals and can reach a height of 4 metres and weigh 7,000 kg. All elephants have a long trunk, used for many purposes, particularly breathing, lifting water and grasping objects.  All African elephants, male and female, have tusks whereas only some Asian males have tusks. About 50% of Asian females have short tusks known as tushes – which have no pulp inside.  Usually in mammals tusks are enlarged canine teeth, but in elephants they are actually elongated incisors and are essentially no different from other teeth. One third of the tusk is actually hidden from view, embedded deep in the elephant’s head. This part of the tusk is a pulp cavity made up of tissue, blood and nerves. The visible, ivory part of the tusk is made of dentine with an outer layer of enamel.  Their tusks can serve as weapons and as tools for moving objects and digging. Elephants’ large ear flaps help to control their body temperature.  African elephants have larger ears and concave backs while Asian elephants have smaller ears and convex or level backs.

Elephants are herbivorous and can be found in different habitats including savannahs, forests, deserts and marshes. They prefer to stay near water. Females, known as cows, tend to live in family groups, which can consist of one female with her calves or several related females with offspring. The groups are led by an individual known as the matriarch, often the oldest cow. Elephants have a fission-fusion society in which multiple family groups come together to socialise. Males, known as bulls, leave their family groups when they reach puberty, and may live alone or with other males. Adult bulls mostly interact with family groups when looking for a mate. Calves are the centre of attention in their family groups and rely on their mothers for as long as three years. Elephants can live up to 70 years in the wild. They communicate by touch, sight, smell and sound; elephants use infrasound (low frequency sound), and seismic communication (sometimes called vibrational communication) over long distances. Elephant intelligence has been compared with that of primates and cetaceans. They have self-awareness and show empathy for dying or dead individuals of their kind.

African elephants are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, while the Asian elephant is classed as endangered. One of the biggest threats to elephant populations is the ivory trade, as the animals are poached for their ivory tusks. Other threats to wild elephants include habitat destruction and conflicts with local people.

Horribly, in addition to murdering them for their ivory, human beings have exploited elephants for entertainment in zoos and circuses for centuries; and now the military thinks they might be useful for sniffing out bombs!

Thank goodness for The Elephant Sanctuary, Tennessee, a natural habitat refuge developed specifically for African and Asian elephants, which is home to beautiful animals, rescued or retired from zoos and circuses, who can now live out their lives in a safe haven dedicated to their well-being.

elephant sanctuary

Bella and Tarra

Bella and Tarra

In the secrecy of the wooded back hills of rural Tennessee an unusual relationship had developed. Some speculated but
no one really knew what attracted the two opposites or the length of time their enchanting relationship had gone
undetected. What we do know is that on the surface it appeared that these two had little in common; one was singularly focused and soft spoken, even a little shy, but a proud territorial type with an appetite for meat. The other a gregarious chatterbox with a wandering nature and a taste for a plant-based diet. This remarkable friendship could be considered a love story of sorts; definitely what fairy tales are made of.

Bella and Tarra 2

In 2003 the white stray canine wandered into our habitat and befriended The Sanctuary’s founding elephant, Tarra. The inseparable friends were incredible in their devotion to each other.  Bella trusted Tarra so completely, she would let the giant elephant stroke her stomach with her foot and caress her with her trunk.  Bella and Tarra found sanctuary together in the 2,200 acres of the Elephant Sanctuary; swimming in ponds, exploring new paths, and resting side by side in the sunshine until Bella passed away in October 2011.

The Elephant Sanctuary have set up a fund in memory of Bella which will be used to support both the ongoing care of their elephants as well as the care of strays, like Bella, who wander into Hohenwald seeking sanctuary and friendship.  A portion of the proceeds will be used to support efforts of local humane associations and their efforts to care for strays in need of a permanent homeCLICK HERE if you want to contribute to this very worthy cause.


Shirley was captured in the wild in 1953 when she was 5 years old.  She performed for twenty-four years with the Carson and Barnes Circus, then lived at the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo for another twenty-two years.

Her back right leg was broken thirty years ago when she was attacked by a fellow circus elephant.  She is missing a large section of her right ear as result of a fire which not only injured her ear but also left several scars on her back, side and feet.

But, in 1999, at age 51 Shirley was able to retire to the Elephant Sanctuary, Tennessee – HURRAH!

And look at her now 🙂

Shirley in barn

July 6, 1999
Shirley and Tarra liked each other right from the start! Shirley showed Tarra all her injuries that she received when attacked by another elephant at the circus. Tarra sympathetically inspected each injury and the two elephants caressed each other with their trunks.  Fruits and vegetables awaited Shirley when she entered the Sanctuary Barn. Cabbages, oranges, watermelon, squash… all sorts of yummy food to show Shirley how much we already loved her! Tarra squashed the watermelon, then helped herself to much of it.

Shirley's cake

July 22, 2013

Shirley’s 65th birthday party was a BLAST!  Shirley has given us every reason to believe to that we will be celebrating her birthday for many years to come.

Gorgeous 😀


Sissy was captured and separated from her mother and family in Thailand in 1969 when she was one year old, and then shipped to America where she became the favourite attraction at Six Flags over Texas Amusement Park petting zoo.

Sissy with tyre

Sissy lived alone in a zoo for many years with no friends. She had to be creative and improvise. The tyre she carries is not the exact tyre she had growing up but it has become an acceptable substitute.  Sissy likes to take her tyre with her just about everywhere she goes.

She was at the Frank Buck Zoo during the record flood of 1981, when she and many of the Zoo’s animal collection were swept from their enclosures. Sissy was presumed dead but when the waters started to recede, she was spotted.  Actually it was her trunk that was spotted, wrapped around a tree limb, sticking just above the water line. It would be another 24 hours before the water level dropped enough for Sissy to free herself from the tree that her body and trunk were wrapped around. Sissy suffered long-term emotional trauma from that horrifying accident.  Several who were close to her have said that the threat of a pending storm causes Sissy to become petrified with fear. Her phobia of water was so deep that for years Sissy would allow only one keeper to give her a bath.

In 1986, Sissy was shipped to the Fort Worth Zoo for breeding. This was the first time since infancy that Sissy would be with others of her own kind.  Sadly her socialization skills were not developed, making interaction with the other elephants difficult for her.  Additionally, Sissy was now separated from her longtime keeper and was now expected to respond to strangers.  She reportedly showed signs of aggression toward her new keepers and did not relate well with the other elephants. Those who knew her well observed that Sissy was miserable.

After some time at El Paso zoo where she was mistreated, she was finally allowed to retire to the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee –

and look at her now!

Sissy with her sanctuary pal, Winkie

Sissy with her sanctuary pal, Winkie

Sissy and Winkie, best pals

Sissy and Winkie, best pals

Sissy watches as Winkie takes her first tentative steps into the sanctuary pond

Sissy watches as Winkie takes her first tentative steps into the sanctuary pond