Fired founder Carol Buckley sues Elephant Sanctuary

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2010:
(Actual press date November 3.)
NASHVILLE–Carol Buckley, cofounder of the Elephant
Sanctuary at Hohenwald, Tennessee, has sued the sanctuary, board
member Janice Zeitlin, and then-acting chief executive Mary Baker
for wrongful dismissal.
Placed on involuntary leave of absence on November 21, 2009
and fired on March 17, 2010, Buckley filed suit on September 10,
2010, but word of the case did not reach news media until October 7,
when separate reports appeared from Liz Potocsnak of Courthouse News
Service and Chris Echegary of the Nashville Tennessean.

Buckley “is suing for retaliatory termination, breach of
contract and visitation rights for her elephant, among other
things,” Echegary summarized.
“They’ve taken everything: my dog, my bird, my cat, my
home, my life’s work-my elephant,” Buckley affirmed to Malcolm Gay
of The New York Times.
Buckley became caretaker for the then one-year-old elephant,
Tarra, in 1974, soon after the elephant was imported from Burma by
a California tire dealer as a promotional stunt just before the
Endangered Species Act halted elephant imports by private parties.
Buckley eventually bought Tarra and performed with her in circuses
until circa 1980, but retired from performing after coming to
realize that circus life is not natural for elephants. Buckley, 55,
and Scott Blais, 38, opened the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee in
1995. Buckley bought the sanctuary property with her own money,
though she was reimbursed two years later, the lawsuit contends.
From 1995 to November 2009, the lawsuit says, Buckley was the
Elephant Sanctuary president, chief executive, and main fundraiser.
Wrote Echegaray, “Buckley’s trouble started, the lawsuit
states, when she objected to a payment made to Zeitlin’s husband for
a planned education building on the sanctuary. Buckley closed the
account on which Zeitlin wrote the $60,000 check to her husband…She
also complained about a $20,000 payment made in 2008 to a contractor.”
The conflicts originating in 2008 came to a head a year
later, according to the lawsuit, after an elephant tested positive
for tuberculosis in July 2009. Four Elephant Sanctuary caregivers
also tested positive. Buckley contends that her efforts to follow
protocol for preventing a tuberculosis outbreak were opposed by
William Schaffner, M.D., who chairs the department of preventive
medicine at Vanderbilt University and is now the Elephant Sanctuary
board president.
“There was a long list of quite sufficient reasons,” to fire
Buckley, Shaffner told Gay of The New York Times. “If we started to
talk about this, it would reflect only adversely on Carol, and I’m
not interested.”
Wrote Gay, “Buckley, Blais and a select group of caregivers
have harbored 24 elephants,” ten of them now deceased, “expanding
the sanctuary [from the original 200 acres] to comprise 2,700 acres
of rolling Tennessee countryside. But as its reputation grew, there
were reports that Ms. Buckley could be high-handed with workers. The
relationship between the sanctuary’s co-founders also soured, and by
last November,” just before Buckley was placed on leave, “Blais had
announced he was leaving.” Blais is now in charge of daily
operations at the Elephant Sanctuary.

Print Friendly

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.