Chris Gallucci says his life began without direction. But that all changed when he developed a special relationship with one of the largest mammals on earth…elephants.

“I had a screwed up family life. I use to ditch school and do things that would get me into trouble. I left my parents’ house when I was 12. I wanted to be a gangster when I was a little boy,” he says.

When he didn’t go to school, Gallucci says he would go to the Los Angeles zoo and hang out there. He also would build bicycles and motorcycles.

Twelve days before his 18th birthday, Gallucci was riding his motorcycle and he and a friend stopped off at a bar.  

“I was looking for work, a legal way to make money and the bartender said, ‘Up the road, a place is filming a movie. They’re hiring everybody and anybody,’ says Gallucci.”

It was on the set of the movie called Roar, starring Tippi Hedren, that Gallucci took a job as a welder. Also on the set were a number of animals.

Tippi Hedren and Chris Gallucci
Tippi Hedren and Chris Gallucci

“What I saw was all these animals doing this movie. Lions, cougars, tigers, leopards…..and two elephants, Timbo and Cora.”

But seeing the elephants chained up was disturbing to Gallucci. He thought of ways to free the elephant, and sought to win the animal’s trust.

When the film’s elephant trainer quit, Gallucci got the job.

“Elephants eat 500 pounds of food a day. That's a thousand pounds of food. That's a lot of bribery. My goal was to get them off the chain. And so how do you get an animal that has been chained up 90 percent of its life because that's how they have been dealt with? That's the safest way, says Gallucci.”

Little by little Gallucci started making their chain longer.

“I would leave the barn and their chain would be hundreds of feet. I would take them off the chain and put food 500 feet in front of them. Have another chain set up and then they'll go to the food and then chain them up. Now I just got 500 feet. So the next day I went 1000 feet. Next day I went 2000.”

Pretty soon, Gallucci had gotten the elephants to travel more than a kilometer with no chain. A bond was formed between Gallucci and the elephants.

A documentary called ‘The Elephant Man’ was done about Chris Gallucci and his special relationship with Timbo.

“And so it's this whole evolution of trust,” says Gallucci. Elephants are one of the most charismatic mammals, but can also be one of the most dangerous. They won’t tolerate being treated terribly.”

Chris Gallucci’s first charges, Timbo and Cora, have died, but Gallucci still is on the ranch some 40 years later.  He now serves as the Director of The Roar Foundation/ Shambala Preserve, a sanctuary to cats who have suffered mistreatment and neglect.