Bubbles, Bella, and Tawny Sky: A Real-life FairyTail
By Pam Bonsper
Photos By Barry Bland
Bubbles and Bella and Tawny Sky are a fairytale and a reality, all at once. Their story began thirty years ago when Dr. Bhagavan Antle (known as "Doc") rescued a baby elephant whose mother and family had been slaughtered by poachers. Doc flew the 230 pound orphaned baby from Johannesburg, South Africa to Atlanta, Georgia. Doc, a wild animal advocate and Founder/Director of T.I.G.E.R.S. Preserve has been "Dad" to Bubbles for thirty years.
Tawny Sky is Doc's daughter who was born when Bubbles was a pre-teen and growing at a rapid elephant pace. Tawny and Bubbles have grown up together on the enormous wildlife refuge in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina where over a hundred exotic and domestic animals are rescued and cared for. Like sisters, Tawny and Bubbles have played together and developed into beautiful young ladies; Tawny is now twenty and following the footsteps of her father (directing conservation projects), and her big, gray sister is now nine feet tall, weighs nine thousand pounds, and also serves as an ambassador for endangered species.
So where does Bella, the canine, enter this incredible tall tale?
About eight years ago, a VERY large swimming pool was being built for Bubbles (with windows so visitors could watch her swim). While under construction, a black Labrador puppy was abandoned by one of the workers. Tawny fell in love with Bella and she and her black lab have been inseparable ever since.
Big sister Bubbles and Tawny's new puppy did not form an immediate bond. Although they were comfortable with each other--testing the pool as it was being filled--it was their mutual passion and increasing time spent in the water that solidified the bond.
"The refuge has access to the Inter-Coastal Waterway, a river 250 feet wide," explains Doc. "At about 7-8 months old, Bella jumped in the water while Tawny rode Bubbles in the river. With Bella's natural and endless passion for the water and her inherent ability to swim...well a 9,000 pound swimming partner was hard to resist."
He goes on to describe how Bella's friendship with Bubbles grew stronger when Bella realized the elephant was a platform from which she could jump into the water. Bubbles helped her by getting deep in the water--her head sometimes right at water level--and dropping a shoulder so Bella could climb aboard her head. The two began playing together, tossing and catching a ball: Bubbles throws the ball with her trunk and Bella jumps off her head or back to retrieve it.
Now, eight years later, the relationship between the two has only grown stronger and the importance of their friendship is not to be understated. "Bubbles considers Bella her little sidekick, her own little pet," Doc explains. "With just Bubbles in the water, three or four people are needed to entertain her, but with Bella, the two of them will stay for hours.”
Bubbles and Bella also play on land and sometimes just like to hang out together. Bella curls up between the enormous legs of her gentle giant friend while Bubbles meticulously grooms her with the tip of her 8-foot long trunk. The relationship is unique and incredible.
So why? Why do these two different species interact so well together? Why does an enormous pachyderm relate so well to a small canine?
Their mutual love for the water is one reason, but more importantly, both dogs and elephants are highly social beings who can build friendships.
"An elephant's brain is the largest of any land animal," explains Doc, "and an elephant is not only as smart as the average six-year-old child, but has the social capacity of the average human, as well. Bubbles has the ability to empathize and she listens to and understands the spoken word. These glorious animals also need huggy, touchy contact...and that is what Bubbles gets from her family and her love affair with her special side-kick, Bella."
Doc adds an important comment: "There are many stories of cross-species getting along so well together. One is the story of Suryia and Roscoe, the orangutan and the hound. I wonder why we, the human species, can't emulate these animals? Why can't we even get along with others of our same species?"
I asked Doc what he would like to leave with our readers. He emphasized the need for continued support for elephants who are still being slaughtered by the thousands. The Rare Species Fund, The International Elephant Foundation, and Save The Elephants are all organizations that help.
He also mentioned the Multinational Species Conservation Funds Semipostal Stamp Reauthorization Act of 2013, something that he and Bubbles helped pass in Congress. By asking for these stamps at the post office, we will be helping five endangered species.
And please watch these videos and visit Bubbles' Facebook page to see Doc, Tawny, Bubbles and Bella:
And don't forget...there are so many dogs like Bella who have been abandoned or who need homes; they will swim with you, play ball with you, or just sit by your side.
And even if you aren't living a fantastical fairytale; if you don't live on an enormous preserve with an enormous swimming pool and take care of an enormous elephant... You will probably be qualify!