“How intelligent are elephants?” a visitor asked.
“They’re smarter than 90 percent of the humans I interact with,” Patricia L. Zerbini, replied with a bit of sarcasm. Ms. Zerbini is the founder of All About Elephants and owner of Two Tails Ranch and added, “They far surpass any other animal. The only other ones to come close are killer whales and dolphins.”
There’s an Elephant Ranch in Florida?
Located about 90 minutes northwest of Orlando and between Ocala and Gainesville in Williston, Fla., is Two Tails Ranch, a privately-owned, one-of-a-kind elephant ranch where eight pachyderms are permanent residents. It’s not an elephant sanctuary, although I’m aware of at least one in Florida, and since its inception in 1984, about 300 other elephants have passed through its gates. Think of the 80-acre ranch as a hotel for these endangered gentle giants.
All About Elephants is the educational component of the ranch and the operation is staffed pretty lean with about a half-dozen family members with the occasional volunteer group pitching in every once in a while.
Learn and Experience
As part of my birthday weekend, I invited some friends to join me on a visit to Two Tails Ranch where we learned about and interacted with Asian elephants. Although it’s called a tour, general admission without extras really is not a tour but a very interesting interactive session with Ms. Zerbini who provides background on the ranch, Asian and African elephants, and the future of Asian elephants.
Tidbits I learned from her lecture and the Q&A session include:
- Asian and African elephants are very different and the closest relative to the Asian elephant is the manatee.
- Each of the eight resident Asian elephants eat between 250 – pounds of food a day.
- Grown on the ranch are banana plants, bamboo and elephant grass. They also eat fruits, vegetables, grains and five different types of hay.
- Asian elephants have a finger on the top end of its trunk while African elephants have two, one on top and the other on the bottom.
- The average lifespan of Asian elephants at the ranch is 70 – 75 years, in captivity it’s 40 – 43 and about two years in the wild.
- Worldwide, there are less than 25,000 Asian elephants and 246 left in the United States. Sixty percent of those in the U.S. will die in 2 – 3 years because of their age. Asian elephants have not been imported into the U.S. since the 1970s. Sadly, it’s expected the species will be extinct in 5 – 7 years.
- And no, elephants are not afraid of mice, but they have poor vision and small critters could startle them.
Following the Q&A was a painting session in which we watched 33-year-old resident Luke gently grasp paint brushes with his trunk handed to him by Ms. Zerbini and paint on the canvas.
Get Up Close and Personal with Elephants
Additional activities – for additional fees- are available following the Q&A and painting session. One of my friends sat on the leg of Luke who was laying down and posing during the photo opportunity (you’re responsible for taking the photo rather than purchasing a photo from the facility). Two of us fed a couple of carrots each to another elephant and I did get up close and personal with that finger on the tip of its trunk. That little digit moved around and wrapped around the carrot and I had to giggle coming nose-to-trunk with it.
The highlight was riding an elephant in which three of us piled on and took a little guided walk in the shade. Yes, I would have preferred being the only one on the pachyderm but the handlers said it was better for the elephant to have more people ride it. I have to say, this was a mighty smooth ride and more comfortable than a horseback ride.
Packages are offered and depending on the one you choose, it may include a painting by Luke and an experience of washing the elephant. Visit the All About Elephants website to view tour times, prices and reservation information. Tours are offered daily except Thursdays.
Ms. Zerbini is an expert on Asian elephants and has traveled abroad to consult to save these gorgeous creatures. I asked how she got involved with working with elephants.
“My family has been working with animals for nine generations,” she told me, “I decided to focus on the most expensive one.”
All About Elephants, Inc.
18655 NE 81st Street
Williston, FL 32696
Tel: (352) 528-6585
Disclosure: The post contains affiliate links to support my traveling habit, this blog and my special needs dog.