About an hour up the road form here is an elephant sanctuary, Two Tails Ranch. I felt like it would be a good place to start, and elephants! I mean, come on. Who doesn't want to play with an elephant?! If any of you are ever around Williston, Florida, I would definitely recommend you go by.
You have to call and reserve your tour, so if you just stop by, they may not be having one that day. Or you could get there and find that they are full. I was surprised at the number of people who were there. Bruce estimates about 50 or 60 people ranging from toddlers to geezers older than us! This is the line to check in. We had looked at a few other animals before getting in line, and there were several people behind us.
After checking in and buying our tickets for the activities we wanted, we entered a patio with folding chairs and picnic tables. In the paddock in front of us was Luke, a male Asian elephant. Luke stood patiently waiting for everybody to come in and for his matriarch, Pat (a human), to educate everyone on elephants, especially the Asian elephant.
Pat taught us quite a bit about the elephants that I had no clue about. Some of the highlights are that there are significant differences between African and Asian elephants. The easy way to tell the difference is in the ear size, with the African elephant having much larger ears. However, the DNA strands are very different, and they aren't just different breeds of the same animal. The Asian and African elephants cannot breed because their species are so different! She talked more about the external differences (such as number of toes, tusking, head shape, etc), but the DNA differences struck me so strongly that I had to look up the taxonomy. (I know. I can be a bit nerdish, at times. Okay, often and more than a bit!) I learned that both the African and Asian elephant belong to the same genus, but they are different species with each of them having multiple subspecies (breeds). And apparently, the Asian elephant is more closely related to the wooly mammoth than the African elephant is. This is why the tusks of the Asian elephant cross in front. Luke (in the picture) is still an adolescent. As he grows up, his tusks will begin to curve up, like a mammoth's. Another difference between the Asian and African elephants is that in the Asian elephant, only the male grows tusks.
Luke has spent much of his life at Two Tails Ranch. He grew up with Pat's children and enjoyed playing soccer with them and doing other things, such as painting. Luke painted a picture for us. He seemed to enjoy it.
Later, we got to take pictures with him. He was very friendly. I wish I had stayed a little longer. He was getting curious with his trunk. The next person who took a photo got a hug from him with the trunk!
After pictures, we fed carrots to one of the female elephants. She was very, very happy! Pat said it costs over $100,000 per year to feed each elephant. That's in addition to the 80 acres they get to roam and graze! She said they don't have to go round them up, as they all like to spend the night in the barn. Especially Luke, who is afraid of the dark! It was really fun feeding the female. She was reaching for the carrot before I even got up to her!
Then they did elephant rides. I opted out of the rides, instead wandering around the grounds checking out the other animals.
They have ringtail lemurs with a large enclosure and a "skybridge" leading to and from a large building, where they can go inside whenever they want, like this guy!
They are breeding the lemurs. This one turned 3 weeks old yesterday!
All in all, it was an excellent day. The animals appear well taken care of and spoiled. The enclosures were large and well appointed, and most of the animals are apparently turned out to roam the 80 acres at will when guests are not on site. They also have a program in which you can bathe an elephant and other up-close activities assisting with their daily care. I didn't think I was up for that yet. Shout out to Two Tails Ranch for doing such an excellent job with these animals!