The Elephant Sanctuary in TN mourns the loss of Bella the dog, companion to Tarra the elephant

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Sad news today from The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee:  Bella, the dog who made international headlines as the treasured companion of The Sanctuary’s first elephant, Tarra, has died, likely as the result of a coyote attack. In a letter on The Elephant Sanctuary website, CEO Rob Atkinson writes:

“We noticed Bella was not with Tarra at breakfast on Tuesday and later that morning she still had not appeared. Tarra and Bella have always spent short periods apart as one goes off exploring briefly on their own, but this longer absence worried us deeply and a search of the property was started which continued into the next day. The search ended tragically when Bella’s body was found close to the Asia barn that had long been home to Tarra, her five sisters and Bella.”

Dr. Scott, long-time veterinarian for Bella and all The Sanctuary’s animals, determined the cause of death, saying in a press release, “Bella’s injuries show she was attacked by animals, probably coyotes.” Samples have been sent for analysis to check whether other causes may have contributed to her death.

Bella and Tarra, in a photo from The Elephant Sanctuary website.

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,” said Steve Smith, Director of Elephant Husbandry.

No indication of a struggle was found 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, the final evidence that pointed to the likely truth—that Tarra had found Bella during or after the attack and carried her body back to the barn.

Rob Atkinson concluded in the release, “I am convinced Tarra experienced the death of her friend that fateful night, brought her home and said her goodbyes. 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.”

 Bella came to the sanctuary in 2003 and was one of a a dozen or more strays who found a home there. Most of the dogs and elephants left each other alone. But Bella became became famous when she and Tarra, the sanctuary’s first elephant, became best friends. Ever since, the pair have shared an incredible friendship that has touched hearts around the world.

It’s truly a sad day for animal lovers everywhere. You can learn more about Bella and Tarra and The Elephant Sanctuary on the sanctuary website.

  • Cory Marder

    Bella was a good friend and will always be remembered by Tarra. I believe all animals grieve in their own way. May she rest in peace and become an angel to Tarra.

  • Dennis Stepanovich

    Good friends as Tara and Bella will be in each other minds and heart forever. Bella will patiently wait for and be reunited with Tara someday at Rainbow Bridge. May Bella rest in peace.

  • Melanie

    So saddened by the news of Bella’s passing. My heart and thoughts are with Tarra. Play with the Angels Bella as you watch over your dearest friend from above.

  • Steven Halfacre

    I was amazed at the relationship between Tarra & Bella. It was demonstrative that these loving creatures have capacities far beyond what we humans attribute to them with our limited perspectives. I wept as I heard this story and can only hope Tarra can remember the joy they shared as we relish the joy we’ve shared with friends and family we’ve lost. Rest now sweet Bella.

  • Mariah

    This touched my heart so much. Animals DO have feelings…that’s for sure! If more people realized that they would love & respect them more

  • Sherry

    I heard about their friendship yrs. ago. Beautiful. Bella’s passing broke my heart.


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