Hidden in Choctaw County in southeast Oklahoma, the Endangered Ark Foundation is a private non-profit organization dedicated to protecting the future of endangered Asian elephants. We spent Labor Day 2018 interacting with and feeding these gentle giants.
As you drive on to the property, many old circus wagons can be found along the edge of the property. Driving into town, the welcome to Hugo sign also lets you know that this is circus country. Why? Carson & Barnes Circus’ headquarters is here. In fact, it’s just down the road from the Endangered Ark Foundation. Many of the elephants are former circus elephants who were retired and moved to the Endangered Ark. Some of the elephants are over 40 years old.
The Endangered Ark Foundation also has young elephants, as part of their mission is to increase the ever-dwindling number of Asian elephants. The species has seen a 50 percent loss in population in the past three generations. At the start of the tour, you will meet three-year-old Dori Marie and her mother, Wimpy. Born on site, she is Oklahoma’s youngest Asian Elephant and the sixth elephant born on site. Her third-birthday was celebrated onsite on August 11, 2018. It was also a fundraiser to build an expansion playground for the elephants.
Public tours are available on Fridays and Saturday and last one hour. The site is not open to the public without an appointment. On holidays, such as Labor Day, they do have special tours. Reserve your spot online or call to ensure availability. It was fairly booked when we were there, but it was a holiday weekend. Interested groups, such as schools and youth programs, can also contact the association for scheduling a tour.
Photos and flash photography are allowed. Just please watch the flash. More than one person stepped right in front of Dori Marie and her mom and took flash photos and both elephants turned their heads and stepped away from the group. When people used their phones without the flash turned on, the elephants seemed more than willing to play but as soon as someone flashed them (no pun intended), they immediately flinched and turned away. Please, don’t blind the elephants.
The tour first takes you into the “Baby Barn” where you will first see Dori Marie and her mom. Next, you’ll sit down and watch as the trainers give Del Rita a bath and a pedicure. (Each elephant receives a weekly bath and a pedicure.) The interaction between the trainer and the main elephant was touching to watch. You can tell that the people on site are truly dedicated to protecting the species and adore these animals. They also get into specifics such as feeding as each elephant eats between 2 and 4 square bales of hay and 16 pounds of sweet feed a day. Local shops like Walmart and Orscheln Farm&Home donate food and other supplies to the shelter.
Other activities include riding around on a tractor-pulled wagon to view the elephants and getting up close and personal with two elephants. You are allowed to feed the animals for a nominal fee, but you can still get a picture for free. What was amusing was watching the elephants spot who was the most scared of elephants and spend most of their time trying to interact with the scared one and ignoring the excited ones. It was like watching your dog begging someone to play.
For more information on how to contribute to the Endangered Ark or to book a tour, visit Endangered Ark Foundation.
Where to find it? (Map)
2657 East 2070 Rd, Hugo, OK 74743