Fundraiser, book signing raise awareness for Elephant Aid International | SummitDaily.com

Fundraiser, book signing raise awareness for Elephant Aid International

Krista Driscoll
kdriscoll@summitdaily.com

Carol Buckley, founder of Elephant Aid International and co-founder of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, will be in Summit County this weekend to raise funds for her organization and sign her award-winning book "Tarra & Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends."

The fundraiser, which will be held at Beetlekill Blues in Farmer's Korner in Breckenridge, is open to the public and will include appetizers, cash bar and a silent auction, plus a presentation by Buckley and a question-and-answer session. Beetlekill Blues was a corporate sponsor of Elephant Aid International in 2014, contributing a portion of sales to the organization.

"They are doing this fundraiser as part of their support of our organization," Buckley said. "We encourage everyone to come; it's going to be a whole lot of fun."

ELEPHANT SANCTUARY

Before there was a book or an Elephant Aid or a sanctuary, there was one special elephant that Buckley became involved with when she was enrolled in an exotic animal training school during her first year of college.

"This little elephant, which at that time was named Fluffie, was owned by a local businessman who owned a tire store," she said. "He had her on display, so I started taking care of her, training her and learning that her life was going to be miserable, so that's why I ended up owning her."

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Buckley lived on a piece of property in Southern California and was trying to transition the elephant, whom she renamed Tarra, out of the traditional life of work that elephants have had in America and elsewhere, a life of seclusion and chains.

"She was 20 when I founded the animal sanctuary to give her a better life," Buckley said. "My desire was not to disconnect from her but to do what I had been doing for 20 years, which was to make her life better."

The initial goal of giving Tarra a place to retire led Buckley to create The Elephant Sanctuary in 1995, which now provides a place of refuge for 23 elephants. In 2009, she founded Elephant Aid International to raise global consciousness about elephants being kept in captivity and those in the wild. The organization's current campaign, "Chain Free Means Pain Free," has been successfully building corrals for elephants in Nepal and Thailand.

"Elephant Aid International is changing culture for elephants in Asia," Buckley said. "This has been, in all honesty, an incredible surprise to me. I didn't realize that we could do work in Asia that would so significantly benefit the lives of elephants and, by association, the mahouts, trainers of elephants.

"This work that we're doing, it's never been done before, which is so silly; it's so simple. You simply build a corral, which you can build out of solar-powered fencing. They are sensitive emotionally and physically, so they stay clear of the fencing. You can remove these elephants from the shackles that they have worn for decades and improve their welfare in leaps and bounds. Now they have the opportunity to do so many things like bathing, dusting, foraging, walking, sleeping where they want to."

PASSION FOR A CAUSE

Releasing them from their chains allows the elephants to live together, rather than in solitary confinement, which is how most spend their lives in Asia. After working all day under the hot sun, the elephants are chained and unable to move more than a few inches in any direction. They suffer foot disease, arthritis and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Buckley's work has mushroomed, and the government of Nepal recently came to Elephant Aid International with a request for help for the 63 elephants that do anti-poaching patrols in the country's national parks.

"Our project right now is releasing 63 working elephants from a life in chains," Buckley said. "I'm working with hotels and resorts in Nepal to release their elephants from chains. It's spreading like wildfire because it's a very reasonable suggestion."

The goal for Elephant Aid International is not to change an entire culture overnight, Buckley said, but to better the lives of elephants in increments so that, eventually, through education, the small changes will add up to the elephants no longer working.

"We're taking a big chunk out of it by taking them off chains," she said. "What that automatically does is the mahouts have to learn a different way of managing their elephants. They've always done it with brute force and pain, but you cannot beat an elephant that's not on a chain; he will leave, she will leave."

The mahouts were originally very resistant, but now they are in a situation where they want to learn because they want to continue to be able to manage their elephants, Buckley said.

"One welfare improvement is leading another, and eventually, it's going to be completely different," she said.

WRITING A BOOK

On Saturday, Oct. 25, Buckley will sign her book "Tarra & Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends" and give a brief talk about her work with elephants and the mission of Elephant Aid International at Next Page Books & Nosh in Frisco. The book tells the true-life story about Buckley's elephant and her rescue dog and how they formed a lifetime connection. Buckley was originally hesitant to tell the story, and it was years before it made its way into the pages of a children's book.

"Tarra and Bella the dog have been in their relationship for easily six years before I made it public," Buckley said. "I consciously did not write about their relationship, nor did I tell the media about it. My concern was they wouldn't take it serious; they would be the butt of jokes, and I didn't want to have that energy around the relationship."

After the terrorist attacks on 9/11, Buckley said, people were sad and the story was so beautiful that she should probably share it with the world.

She included the tale in a membership newsletter for Elephant Aid International, and it started to gain momentum.

"CBS approached me and said they wanted to come out and film the dog and the elephant, and I wasn't inclined to," she said. "I didn't want them to make fun if it; it's a really important relationship between these two animals. They agreed that they would take it serious, they would come out and film, and from what they filmed, they would do a serious news piece. And they did, and it was beautiful and it went viral."

Buckley was approached by half a dozen film and publishing companies to make a book or movie and finally settled on Putnam's young readers division because she appreciated their sensitivity to the story.

"It was going to be a very sensitive book about the dog and the elephant, not a cartoon, and that's how I ended up writing the book," she said.

"We are so excited to have children's author Carol Buckley with us to present her amazing story," wrote Next Page owner Karen Berg in an email.

"Carol has rescued, cared for and rehabilitated captive-held elephants for 40 years. Please don't miss this opportunity — she has such amazing stories to tell."

If you go

What: Fundraiser for Elephant Aid International with founder Carol Buckley

When: 5-9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24, Buckley speaks at 6:30

Where: Beetlekill Blues, 10 Farmer’s Lane, Suite 2, Farmer’s Korner, Breckenridge

Cost: $20 at the door, includes appetizers, $5 cash bar and silent auction with more than 60 items

More information: Call (970) 453-7100 to RSVP; for more on Elephant Aid International, visit http://www.elephantaidinternational.org

If you go

What: Author Carol Buckley speaks about her book, “Tarra & Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Best Friends”

When: 3-5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 25

Where: The Next Page Books & Nosh, 409 Main St. No. 101, Frisco

Cost: Free; books will be available for sale

More information: Visit http://www.nextpagebooks.com, or call (970) 668-9291