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Bella, Best Friend to an Elephant, Dies
BFFs Bella and Tarra

On Friday, we were sad to hear about the death of Bella, a sweet cream-colored stray who was the unlikely best friend of an Asian elephant named Tarra (see The Bark in Nov./Dec. 2008).

Bella first came to The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn., in 2004, and over time, Tarra and Bella forged a deep bond, sometimes wandering the grounds all day together.

Last Tuesday, sanctuary staff realized the pup was missing and launched a search. “Late Wednesday morning, Bella’s body was discovered close to the barn Tarra shares with Bella and five other elephants,” Steve Smith, director of Elephant Husbandry, said.

“Bella’s injuries show she was attacked by animals, probably coyotes,” said Dr. Scott, long-time veterinarian for Bella and all the sanctuary’s animals. Samples have been sent for analysis to check whether other causes may have contributed to her death.

Every effort was made to provide Tarra with the opportunity to allow her to come to terms with Bella’s death. “We expected Tarra to visit Bella, as elephants in their grief pay great attention to the bodies of their dead, but to our surprise Tarra stayed away,” Smith said.

With more evidence, the staff has come to believe that Tarra was aware of Bella’s death many hours before her body was discovered and dealt with it in her own way. In fact, they believe Tarra found Bella during or after the attack and carried her body back to the barn. There was no indication of a struggle anywhere near where Bella was found, and based on the extent of her injuries, it was clear Bella could not have reached the spot herself. Furthermore, examination of the underside of Tarra’s trunk revealed blood.

“I am convinced Tarra experienced the death of her friend that fateful night, brought her home and said her goodbyes,” sanctuary CEO Rob Atkinson said. “Tarra was a true friend to the end, and Tarra’s sisters and caregivers will continue to take care of her, as she and Bella did each other.” 

The Elephant Sanctuary, founded in 1995 as the nation’s largest natural habitat for Asian and African elephants, has set up a Tribute page on its website to memorialize Bella with links to Tarra and Bella’s story and recent photos of the two. Information on the creation of a Memorial Fund established in Bella’s honor and the scheduling of a memorial service will be posted to the website in the coming days. For more information, visit www.elephants.com.

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Photograph courtesy of The Elephant Sanctuary, Hohenwald, Tenn.

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Anonymous | October 31 2011 |

I was amazed when I first read the story of Bella and Tarra in Bark magazine....my heart is full of sorrow, and my eyes filled with tears...This story confirms my belief that animals have emotion and devotion.....sometimes much more that humans do!

Submitted by Anonymous | December 19 2012 |

"May the sun warm your back and the fish leap into your paws."
- Warrior series

Rest in peace, Bella. Your time was not supposed to end yet, but bless your soul forever, and that of the elephant, Tarra, who brought to the place where you will rest forever.

Submitted by Carmyn | October 31 2011 |

My heart is very sad for the loss of Bella.
What a wonderful friendship.Maybe Tarra
Will find happiness with another dog friend someday.

Submitted by Carolyn | October 31 2011 |

Oh I'm so sorry to learn of Bella's untimely death. It was such a great story of friendship. I hope Tara will find another friend to bond with ... It's tough being the longer-lived animal.

Submitted by Anonymous | October 31 2011 |

Oh how sad I am. I feel so bad for Tarra and sincerely wish I could bring Bella back for her. What a tragedy for the sanctuary;

Submitted by Megan Cahill | November 1 2011 |

A true friend to the end. Rest in peace, Bella.

Submitted by rahusky | November 1 2011 |

Soft husky wooooos,


Submitted by Sad | November 1 2011 |

R.i.P Bella @~~>~~ <3

Submitted by Laura | November 1 2011 |

Every day we learn more about the ability of animals to exhibit love and compassion. May the beautiful Bella rest in peace and may Tarra be comforted by her friends of all species.

Submitted by Lisa | November 3 2011 |

Being attacked and killed by a pack of coyotes is a terrible death for a dog (or any animal) to have to suffer.

I wish the sanctuary's managers or employees would have taken measures to secure their animals (elephants and dogs) at night (e.g., by keeping them in the barn), especially in an area which coyotes were known to frequent.

Aren't there any employees that stay with the animals during the night, as in a zoo environment, or do they all go home at the end of the day?

That is very sad.

Submitted by JustVic | November 5 2011 |

I didn't like the comment by "Lisa".... really, to dwell on the manner of Bella's death and then to possibly lay the blame on the caretakers? Seriously?? Another hurtful comment that wasn't necessary in the least.
The caretakers of these animals deserve nothing but thanks and gratefullness for going above and beyond. So from my heart and my faithful companion Sophie my dog.... thank you and we too will miss Bella but will always have Bella and Tarra in our thoughts and the other elephants and their friends at the sanctuary.

Submitted by TONY TOGNETTI | November 4 2011 |


Submitted by Anonymous | November 5 2011 |

If only more humans could behave like elephants...

Submitted by Michele | November 6 2011 |

This tragedy could have, and should have been prevented. What kind of sanctuary takes in animals, then leaves them completely vulnerable to vicious predators? A sanctuary is supposed to be a "safe harbor". Bella suffered a cruel and horrible death, and now Tarra must go on without her best, and perhaps only friend. How awful for both of these very beautiful and loving creatures, thanks to the lack of due diligence on the part of the sanctuary. I am angry and saddened. This was just plain wrong, and should never have happened.

Submitted by Sue | November 7 2011 |

RIP Bella... you will always have a special place in Tarra's heart
as she does in yours... your friendship is a real inspiration to
all of us...

Submitted by Dawn | November 13 2011 |

I'm so sorry to hear this sad news. A couple years ago I'd read about the extraordinary friendship between Bella and Tarra. At the time I was concerned for Tarra, since dogs don't live as long as elephants; wondering how she'd adjust when her companion passed first. I hope Tarra will cope with the loss of her friend. My thanks to the Elephant Sanctuary for providing a home for elephants and dogs. Best wishes to all of you.

Submitted by Amanda | November 22 2011 |

The comments on here about the sanctuary's responsibility for the death are a little off base. The dog was a stray, and the sanctuary had no actual responsibility for her. Furthermore, this is a huge sanctuary, and it may not have been reasonable to gather up the dog and protect her each night.

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