So, when’s the last time you saw a real live elephant? Or got to pet one and feed it a treat? We had these delightful pleasures earlier this month during a trip to Hugo, Oklahoma to visit a potential new store for my books.
When we were planning our trip, I did a Google search to see if there were any interesting spots to visit while we were in the area. I happened upon the Endangered Ark Foundation, which was founded in 1993 and is the second largest Asian Elephant refuge in North America. (The largest one is in Florida.)
According to their website, the Endangered Ark Foundation “is a private non-profit dedicated to ensuring the future of Asian elephants in North America, providing a retirement ranch for circus elephants, and educating the public about this endangered species.”
They recently began offering public tours for individuals twice a day on Friday and Saturday, and group tours Monday through Thursday to help to support their organization. Cost of the tour is $30 for adults, $15 for ages 4-12, and 3 and under are free.
The tours last about an hour and include an educational presentation about Asian Elephants, a guided tour of the facility, and an opportunity to see an elephant have a bath. The guide told us that the elephants love their baths so much, that they sometimes get very relaxed and fall asleep while being bathed.
My favorite part of the tour, was the chance to pet and hand feed the elephants. I expected their skin to feel smooth but it was just the opposite. It felt very rough and leathery. And, for being the Earth’s largest land animals, they were surprisingly sweet and gentle and didn’t seem to mind having humans touch and pat them.
We were able to feed two different elephants a snack of carrots and bananas. The caretakers instructed us to let the elephants take the food out of our hands with their trunks, which are actually long noses with a lot of functions. They use their trunks to breathe, smell, trumpet, drink and for grabbing things. Asian Elephants have a finger-like feature at the end of their trunks for grabbing food, toys, and various things.
Here are some other fun facts we learned about Asian Elephants during our visit to the Endangered Ark Foundation:
Asian Elephants are a bit smaller than their pachyderm cousins, the African Elephants.
Female elephants are called “cows” and male elephants are called “bulls”.
Elephants are pregnant for almost two years. It takes 22 months for a baby elephant to be born.
Asian Elephants reach adulthood at 17 years of age and live about as long as humans. In the wild their life expectancy is 60 years while they can live as long as 80 years in captivity.
Elephants have their own distinct personalities and ways of communicating.
An adult elephant can eat up to 300 pounds of food a day and weighs 6000 to 9000 pounds.
Asian elephants are herbivores and while they eat a lot of hay, they really like to eat fruits and vegetables. While we were on the tour, we were able to see the youngest elephant, (Dori Marie, who was born in July of 2015) really enjoy eating a watermelon.
Asian Elephants are an endangered species and there are between 35,000 and 45,000 of them on Earth. As of 2000, there were only 285 captive elephants in North America and today, there are approximately 500.
If you would like more information about the Endangered Ark Foundation, check out their website at www.endangeredarkfoundation.org.
Author’s note: Something I learned while researching this post, is that there is something called an “IUCN Red List” which is a system of assessing the global conservation status of different species. You can see which animals are listed in each category on their website at www.iucnredlist.org. Here are the categories:
There is no living population.
2.Extinct in the wild (EW)
Captive individuals survive, but there is no free-living, natural population.
3.Critically endangered (CR)
Faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the immediate future.
Faces a high risk of extinction in the near future. (The Asian Elephant is on this list.)
Faces a high risk of endangerment in the medium term.
May be considered threatened in the near future.
7.Least concern (LC)
No immediate threat to species’ survival.