The Girls Are Back in Town: Celebrate Elephant Appreciation Day

By Joy Neighbors
Today is Elephant Appreciation Day. Locals will understand the affection felt for these noble beasts, thanks to the area’s deep connections with the Hagenbeck and Wallace Circus, once owned by West Baden Springs Hotel owner Ed Ballard.
Today elephants are making their home here again, this time at Wilstem Ranch east of town. Three African elephants are vacationing here until October 30th when they will become snowbirds of a sort and travel down to Florida –their winter home.
Wilstem Ranch, located between West Baden and French Lick offers a chance for the public to get up close and personal with the three girls during the “Elephant Encounters.” The ranch is owned by Jerry and Carolyn Fuhs but it too once belonged to Ed Ballard.

Wilstem Ranch
It was rumored that this was where Ballard entertained his famous friends, offering them a place to escape from the public, and in some cases, the police. Al Capone supposedly stayed at the ranch on several occasions – once on his honeymoon.
The Fuhs decided several years ago that they wanted to be around African elephants so they began touring the country in search of the right animals and owners. Enter Jorge and Lou Ann Barrida and their three girls; Makia, Lou and Lovie. These three elephants grew up together, are pets and love people, which made them perfect for the ranch.
The girls spend eight months of the year (March through October) near French Lick before traveling back to Sarasota, Florida to enjoy the warmer climate for four months (November - February.)
Meet the Girls
There are three elephants at Wilstem Ranch and each has her own delightful personality.
Makia is 42-years-old and reigns as the matriarch of the group. The Barrida’s got her when she was 13 from a national park in South Africa. She weighs more than 10,000 pounds and is extremely patient. Makia’s intelligence is obvious to visitors as she watches the crowd and waves her trunk to those she knows or likes.

Lou is 32-years-old and is being groomed by Makia to become the next matriarch. Lou is calm and steady. She loves the spa routine – in fact, she actually rumbles, a sound that is much like a kitten’s purr of pleasure.  Lou is contented enough that she might doze during her bath but she quickly lifts a foot when it’s time for her pedicure. Lou also has a sense of humor and enjoys playing jokes.
Lovie is also 32-years-old but was born with only one tusk. She’s the “kid” of the group and loves to play practical jokes. It’s not unusual for her to swipe a visitor’s sunglasses or remove a piece of jewelry that she likes but she always returns the items to their owners.

Experience an Elephant Encounter
Jorge Barrida, Makia and Jerry Fuhs
The Elephant Encounter is a one-of-a-kind experience. There are two types of sessions offered; the Educational Seminar and The Spa, which includes the seminar.
An Educational Seminar
Educational seminars last one hour and provide visitors with interesting facts about the three girls, and elephants in general. Visitors can ask questions, pet the elephants and take photos and selfies with them. These sessions are a wealth of knowledge. In 30 minutes you’ll learn that the girls eat over 200 pounds of hay each day and drink over 100 gallons of water. An elephant has between 40,000 and 100,000 muscles in its trunk and those gorgeous eye lashes can grow up to 12-inches long – the longest lashes of any animal – and there’s so much more to learn.
Brushing Tusks
For the more adventurous, book a spa appointment and be a part of the bath and pedicure treatments. The Spa takes an hour and visitors get to interact with the elephants. However, each spa is limited to 30 people, so book early.

Lou Gets a Bath
The session begins with visitors assisting the owners in wetting down one of the elephants before scrubbing her with a special shampoo made just for these girls to condition and help cleanse their skin. Once the shampoo has been rinsed off, it’s time for a pedicure. Visitors apply mineral oil with a paint brush to help keep those toenails conditioned for all the digging in the elephants do in the earth for minerals. Two sessions are scheduled each day.
Makia Heads Out to the Mud
Once the spa is over, visitors get the chance to touch the elephants and pose for photos. Adults and children alike were emphatic with their pleasure and excitement of getting to visit with these beautiful girls. When their fans are satisfied, the girls are allowed out to wander their 10-acre field. After stopping to pose for a group elephant photo opportunity, Makia heads for her favorite mud hole while Lou and Lovie nibble on hay before heading down the hill for an afternoon of fun - elephant style.
Trip Details
Elephant Encounters are held twice daily Tuesdays through Saturdays. (There are no sessions on Mondays.) The Spa begins at 9:30 a.m. and again at 3 p.m. each day with the educational session following at 10:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Sundays the spas begin at 10:30 a.m. and 3 p.m.
The girls are here until October 30; don’t miss a chance to see them up close. For more information contact Wilstem Ranch at or call (812) 936-4484.