Sunday, May 17, 2009

Bunny the elephant has died, sanctuary director says

By Rich Davis

Bunny the elephant passed away at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn., according to sanctuary founder Carol Buckley.

She will be buried Saturday evening on a hill not far from where the 57-year-old former Evansville zoo pachyderm went to die 12 days earlier, lying down in a narrow valley about three miles from her barn.

“We’ll have a ceremonial fire (near the grave). It’s very much a spiritual journey,” said Buckley, noting a dozen or more sanctuary employees who worked with Bunny will have a chance to be with her one last time.

Buckley said although Bunny died of old age, before the burial a team of veterinarians from the University of Georgia will examine her 7,500-pound body, checking her lungs since elephants who have lived in captivity sometimes develop lung disease.

“People ask if I’m heartbroken,” said Buckley, who came to Evansville in 1999 to take Bunny to the 2,200-acre sanctuary southwest of Nashville. “I am devastated, but I feel great for Bunny. She couldn't have asked for more. She had 10 years of freedom and died with being impacted by some devastating disease.”

Another caregiver was with Bunny when the elephant took two long breaths, closed her eyes and passed.

Buckley and cofounder Scott Blais had been called away to be with Ned, another of the sanctuary’s 17 elephants. Ned had been sick and died this morning, 12 hours after Bunny.

However, Buckley noted Ned had been gravely ill since the federal government confiscated him from his owner six months ago and placed him at the sanctuary.

According to the sanctuary’s Web site ( Bunny brought joy to those she met and her passing was a poignant, but cherished moment.