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 .
Photograph courtesy of The Elephant Sanctuary, Hohenwald, Tenn.