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June 17, 2010

Memories of Babe

Caregivers and volunteers share their tributes

The Humane Society of the United States / The Fund for Animals

  • Babe, an African elephant, had lived at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch since 1996 after she was discarded by a traveling circus. Ben Callison

  • Watermelons were one of Babe's favorite foods. Ben Callison

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    Arturo Padron was Babe's full-time caregiver. He kept her as comfortable, contented and engaged as possible. Michelle Riley/The HSUS

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    Babe found this stick to be a great source of entertainment. CABBR

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    Babe loving every minute of being hosed off by Dawna Epperson, a staff member at the ranch who had known and loved Babe since 1998. CABBR

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    A special enclosure built for Babe was filled with rehabilitative activities like this tire swing for her to bat around. Michelle Riley/The HSUS

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    Babe died as she lived at our sanctuary—surrounded by love. We'll miss her greatly. Jean-Paul Bonnelly

The following are memories shared by Babe's caregivers, staff, and volunteers.


Diane Miller, sanctuary director

I’m humbled by the experience of getting to know and care for Babe and am forever changed by it. I’ve worked with scores of animals, and have been deeply touched by many of them, but few as deeply as I have been by Babe. As a baby, she witnessed her family being shot—being killed—around her.

She had every right to be angry, but Babe somehow learned to transcend all of that. She was careful with us. She was always cognizant of where we were and how to move to avoid harming us despite her handicaps that made normal movement challenging for her.

She was patient and she was kind. Babe had a soul that was truly benevolent. The lesson I will hold with me forever from Babe is that it’s possible to transcend your history and your circumstances and live your every moment in kindness and love.

Read the Groupcard signed for Babe »

One of the things that made Babe so unique is that she was a physical manifestation of the wrongs inflicted on wild animals in captivity. Her physical deformities and injuries from being forced to perform were so apparent, and that made her story so much more poignant. Every time you looked at her, you saw it. She was a pure illustration of why our own species must learn from our past mistakes, and move beyond such abuse and disrespect for another species.


Arturo Padron, Babe's caregiver

We had an unspoken bond, Babe and me. It was my job to look after her, day in, and day out, and she grew to trust me, as I grew to love her. She was patient with me, and I was patient with her.

Every morning, when I came into work, she would be the first one I would go see. I would say 'good morning' to her, and she would rumble back—a deep rumble—and I knew she was glad to see me. I would give her a cold cantaloupe filled with medicine every morning, and then I’d start preparing the soothing therapies for her feet. She looked to me and I was there to comfort her whenever something startled and upset her. She would let me hug her leg, and I'd pet her trunk, and stroke around her eyes. I can't imagine how someone could have ever harmed her.

It was difficult to accept that Babe would die. I will tell my grandchildren about Babe some day, as I tell my children about her now. I will move on to help other animals at the sanctuary, greet them every morning and make sure they have all that they need.

But I will always miss Babe. I will always miss her rumble.


Dawna Epperson, sanctuary caretaker

Beautiful Baby, who became Babe, arrived at Black Beauty Ranch after being orphaned, shipped, trained, chained, and exploited for profit by humans. Despite this treatment, at 10 years old when she came to our sanctuary, she was patient, trusting, adorable, funny, and most of all sweet.

She communicated her feelings well. On the rare occasions she became afraid or upset, she would trumpet to let us know. When she was happy to see a friend, she rumbled; it sounded like a huge purr. 

Babe told you just exactly how good her food was or was not. The more she liked what was in her mouth the more her eyes batted and seemed to roll back in her head. 

When she would bathe her body with a trunk full of water or mud or worse, her eyes twinkled when she would "accidentally on purpose" over aim and drench a friend.

Our babe didn’t get to have her family as her herd. She taught me that your herd is comprised of those you trust and love, no matter their size or species.

Lucky was I to know her and be her friend. Farewell, darling Babe. Sleep tight, Baby girl.


Stacy Smith, volunteer

I felt it before I heard it ... a tremor that seemed to start within and move outward to the nerves on my skin, ending with a deep, almost metallic sound that at first I didn't know was coming from Babe. And then I realized it was the rumble I'd read about, a sound that elephants make when they are really content, and I thought "I am the luckiest person on earth." 

I was standing in the hot Texas summer sun with flies and dust all around me, while a baby elephant took the water from the hose I held out and flung it over her back with gusto. Fourteen years later, it is still one of my most precious memories. I made an elephant happy.

I hope that I brought even a fraction of the happiness to her life that she brought to mine over the years. Her gentle nature and capacity for joy, even after the abuse she endured at the hands of those who came before her years at the ranch, will keep her in my heart forever. 

I love you, Babe. We are all better humans for having known you.


Ben Callison, volunteer

Babe has come to be far more than just a friend to me over the years. She taught me compassion, love, and forgiveness like no human ever could. Whenever I feel that I have lost faith in humanity, I know all it takes is one trip out to see her. To look at her battered body as a direct cause of humanity's past neglect, and to imagine the atrocities she has been witness to before being retired to a sanctuary, makes me question every time why she still walks up to me and extends her trunk out.

She, like so many animals at the ranch, has every right to despise humans, yet I see no anger in her eyes, only love, forgiveness, and sorrow. The sorrow is not for her but for us; the sorrow of looking at a species that possess the power but lacks the will to right all the wrongs of this world.

Thanks for all the love, lessons, and memories, Babe, and I truly hope our species can be as knowledgeable and compassionate as yours one day.


Marian Probst, Fund chairwoman, HSUS board member

We were told we would only have her for five or six years, but instead we had her for 14. A special enclosure was built for her with special bedding, special footing, and we dedicated a staffer whose only task was to care for her, and she deserved it all.

She was a wise and wonderful animal. She was surrounded by love. She was the queen of Black Beauty.

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