As “The Circle of Life” plays on the loudspeaker, we are ushered into an open-air structure which, in normal times, can seat about 100 people. In front of us are three giant-sized “stalls” where Lou, Carol, and Patty will make their way for breakfast. These beautiful beasts come strolling in one by one and take their place. These are the Myakka Elephants and this is their sanctuary the Myakka Elephant Ranch.
The “Golden Girls”, as they are affectionately known, greet visitors every day except Monday for one on one encounters. On this particular day, I am joined by a group of young adults with disabilities from The Haven which is located in Sarasota.
Lou Berreda – President of Myakka Elephant Ranch
Lou Barreda, the President of the Myakka Elephant Ranch, is about to begin our presentation. He and his staff are both welcoming and wonderful. They are not only knowledgeable, but are so very patient answering the many questions we have. And there are many.
Lou the human grew up with Lou the elephant, the 37 year old matriarch from Zimbabwe, Africa. It is clear they not only share a name, but also share a special bond. Considered an endangered species, Carol and Patty are both 47 year old Asian Elephants from Thailand. They have made the Ranch their home for over a year.
With the purpose of educating the public and helping to bring an awareness of the worldwide threat to elephants, Lou has formed a not-for-profit company and, for the first time in the history of the Ranch, has opened it to the public. With ten percent of the encounters going to community outreach, these educational programs have been quite successful.
Education & Awareness
Lou attends international symposiums, having recently returned from South Africa. His mission is to educate the public and bring awareness to these creatures. The African Elephant is considered a threatened species with an increase in poaching. Projects are being developed around the world to help protect these endangered and threatened species. It is because of this threat that the Myakka Elephant Ranch has partnered with the International Elephant Foundation.
Living their best lives, it is clear these Golden Girls are indeed pampered. They are fed grains, vegetables and supplements in addition to 200 pounds of hay and 50-100 gallons of water per day per elephant. After breakfast, they get ready to be bathed. Because their skin is extremely sensitive and can dry out, a mandatory daily spa regimen consisting of a bath with special soap and a mineral enriched mani/pedi is necessary. Guests are not only invited, but encouraged to participate in this fun, hands on ritual.
Kellen, the Community Outreach Director for the Ranch, is extremely knowledgable himself. He tells me they have had overwhelming success with many organizations who have met the qualifications and participated (at no cost) in these encounters. These usually occur on the second Wednesday of the month. Please refer to their website for applications and information regarding availability and qualifications for the community outreach encounters.
It is thrilling and heartwarming to witness the gentle exchange between human and beast. These encounters offer each guest a chance to participate in the daily care of these special creatures. By the look on the faces of today’s guests, there is no question that the elephants bring such joy. I know I felt it, too.
The encounters are limited and available by appointment only. There are several price points to choose from, each offering a once in a lifetime experience you will never forget. The holidays are upon us and this is such a fun and wonderful unique gift to give! Marketing/Sales Director, Julia tells me gift certificates are available, as well! The Myakka Elephant Ranch can be reached at (941) 702-0220 and on their website for more information!
Say “hi’ to the Golden Girls for me!
Photos from Sheri Nadelman