Oh if only we could travel to Africa or Thailand to see happy elephants! When will COVID be over!!
With the elimination of circuses and pressure from agencies like PETA in the United States, exotic animals have had to find new homes and Florida is the place to retire for humans and animals alike.
The Myakka Elephant Ranch opened a little over two years ago as a conservation and educational program. The ranch is a nonprofit organization supporting global elephant conservation efforts. In November 2020 the owners began inviting the public in for elephant education encounters to help support the animals and work in connection with the International Elephant Foundation. Some of the money goes towards the foundation to support the preservation of wild elephants by building look out towers and anti poaching stations in Africa.
My sister and I excitedly drove the 20 minutes from our Bradenton, Florida neighborhood to the ranch. We signed up for the hands on spa encounter to spend the afternoon bathing the elephants. After the bathing portion, the 3 elephants, Lou, Carol, and Patty came out for snacks. During the one hour educational session, people ask questions and are invited to interact and pose for photos with the elephants and then we move outside to watch them in their own play yard.
Just like people, elephants each have a unique personality. In the wild, groups of elephants are led by a matriarch. Lou, the African elephant, has taken on that serious and dominant role in this trio. She was brought to the US in 1986 at 1 1/2 years old. She is now eight years retired from her work in the entertainment business. Her jobs included birthday parties, county fairs, circuses and fundraisers. She is used to being around people, so her daily baths which are important to moisturize her dry skin, give her additional enrichment. Her big trick is to reach out and use her trunk and the “two fingers” at the end of the trunk to accept a banana and apple from someone in the audience. Lou purrs when she gets her bath and happily poses with tourists and people willing to pay to bathe her.
Carol and Patty are both 49 years old and came to the United States from Thailand when they were two. They are both Asian elephants so have smaller ears, the shape of India instead of Africa. Carol was a movie star in her younger years and had a role as a youngster on Smokey and the Bandit 2. Patty doesn’t really care to get up and personal with humans but is devoted to her trainer of nearly 40 years. The elephant’s skin is very sensitive and they can feel a mosquito bite. Their hearing and smell are better than a hound dog. The Asian elephants do have tusks, but they are small and covered. In the hot weather, they stay cool with water and mud.
Two months ago, Myakka Elephant Ranch was able to install a new waterhole for the three elephants. It’s been a bit cold this past week in Florida, so they did not go swimming but instead enjoyed the electric heaters in their stalls.
Young Lou who is the son in the family visited Africa to learn more about elephant conservation efforts with the International Elephant Foundation. They work to support actions to eliminate the illegal killing and poaching of elephants. I was surprised to learn that only 300,000 African elephants now live in Africa, down from 10 million in 1930. 100 are killed every day. Additionally, only 40,000 Asian elephants still roam freely. Due to a loss of habitat, last year elephants killed many natives in Sri Lanka, and the natives killed elephants as well.
Raising awareness of the importance of conserving elephants and their habitats is what Lou and his dad Lou hope to achieve here at Myakka Elephant Ranch. Expanding their property to include more elephants and possibly breeding in the future is something they would be interested in. The White Oaks Conservation center in Northern Florida has taken a herd of 12 elephants with plans for an additional 20 retired Ringling Bros. elephants to it’s 17,000 acre property. Plans for breeding there are hopeful as is a trip for me to visit!
Lou, Carol, and Patty are bathed daily and minerals are painted on their toe nails. We took turns using a hose to wet down the pachyderms and then scrub their bodies with brushes. After the bath, and the hay, we had a hands on opportunity to pet their trunks and take photos. Then, the bathed ladies had a chance to ignore us and head out to the paddock to roll or toss dirt all over their bodies. They will be ready for tomorrow’s spa treatment.