HUGO, OK—During a business trip in the southeastern part of Oklahoma, Kimi Lewis of Moore was driving down a road when she glanced over and couldn’t believe her eyes. She saw an elephant.
“I was on a site visit in Hugo and looked over – twice, and thought ‘Is that and elephant?’, Lewis said. It was.
Lewis had accidentally come upon the Endangered Ark Foundation (EAF), a private non-profit conservatory for Asian elephants.
Nestled away on the outskirts of this small town in southeast Oklahoma, the EAF is the second largest home to Asian elephants in America. The organization provides a retirement ranch for former circus elephants and provides a safe home for these majestic animals. The group also works to educate the public about this endangered species.
“They were having a school event. I stopped and asked if I could ride through too and they said yes. It was so cool! I want to do it again,” she said.
According to the foundation’s Director, Karyn Olmos, EAF has focused on preserving this endangered species for nearly three decades. The group currently has 16 elephants that range in age from under two years all the way to 70 years.
“These elephants have been together their entire lives,” Olmos said. “Like people, they each have their own individual personalities. They have their favorite foods, their own favorite things to do, and their own best friends in the herd. To us, they are part of our family.”
Cameron Lee is the “baby” who will turn two years of age this summer, and like any child is getting a special party planned to celebrate. Weighing in at birth at a mere 257 pounds, he is the smallest baby ever born at the Foundation.
“Like most toddlers, he is very rambunctious and energetic,” Olmos said. “He is completely spoiled by the herd and by our staff and is completely loved by his older sisters. We are all looking forward to a great birthday celebration with him this summer.”
According to statistics, the number of Asian elephants has dropped by more than half over the past three generation and the numbers are still declining today. There are estimated to only be between 40,000-50,000 left in the wild, which has placed the species on the endangered list. There are only about 300 in the U.S. in zoos and on conservation ranches like EAF.
Olmos said conservatories like EAF are important to keep these majestic animals safe and ensure they do not become extinct.
“Our herd is always treated with the utmost care and respect. They receive daily spa treatments to protect their skin and their health, and each member of the herd receives weekly personalized pedicures to care for their feet and nails. We monitor their diets closely to ensure they stay healthy and can live the long and pain free life they deserve,” she said.
EAF offers several educational and unique events for the public to come and observe the elephants on more personal level, including a special youth camp and an all-day expedition to observe the elephants and ask questions, hand feed an elephant, assist in the elephant spa, tour the facility, and then dine with one of the group’s expert elephant handlers.
“Part of our mission is to educate the public about the Asian elephant, and we are working on ways to get more information out to the public and to educators across the U.S. and the world. These once-in-a-lifetime experiences help us accomplish that mission,” Olmos said.