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.
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
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.
Experience an Elephant Encounter
|Jorge Barrida, Makia and Jerry Fuhs|
|An Educational Seminar|
|Lou Gets a Bath|
|Makia Heads Out to the Mud|
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 info@WilstemRanch.com or call (812) 936-4484.