Hidden in southeast Oklahoma is the second largest home to Asian elephants in America: The Endangered Ark Foundation in Hugo, Oklahoma.
The Endangered Ark Foundation was established in 1993 by D.R. and Isla Miller. Since then, the foundation has sought to preserve the extremely endangered Asian elephant.
“We believe that through education, conservation, and preservation efforts we will ensure that people will be able to experience the joy and wonder of Asian elephants for generations to come,” officials said.
According to current statistics, as of 2000, there were only 285 captive elephants in North America and only 35 of these were breeders. The Miller family’s elephant herd is one of the largest in the United States. Their herd consists of 11 Asian elephants in all, with eight females and three males. They range in age from Dori Marie, the youngest baby, who was born in July 2015, to the matriarch of the herd, Susie, who is 63.
The Endangered Ark Foundation consists of three buildings. The first building was the original building built in the ’90s. It is now currently used as a workshop and a “Baby Barn.” The females are housed here during their pregnancy, which lasts up to 22 months. Building two is the female barn. All but two of the eight elephants are females, and most of them have been together the majority of their lives. Building three is the male barn. It houses Tommy, a 20-year-old male, who has fathered the last three babies born at the Endangered Ark Foundation facility. Barn three also houses Obert (named after the founder’s father). He is an 11-year-old male, but he has not started breeding. In addition to the specially designed hands-off barn, the males have their own exercise area with chutes that can be closed on each end to allow for veterinary care when needed.
The foundation offers up-close tours of the elephants where you can not only see them live and play, but you can feed them as well. The foundation runs on donations, which help keep the elephants safe and healthy. Click here to donate.
Public tours are approximately one hour and are available on Friday, Saturday and Sunday (varies depending on season). Guests are requested to make reservations online (or by calling) to ensure availability and to guarantee a seat.
EAF tour guests are provided interactive educational demonstrations about what goes into caring for an elephant, as well as information on the endangered Asian elephant residents and their behaviors.
“We strive to address every question asked and hope you leave our facility with a love and understanding of what we do at EAF and of the Asian elephant species,” officials said.
Public tours are guided and facilitated by knowledgeable staff who are eager to answer questions. Guests have a unique and unforgettable opportunity to look an elephant in the eye and take a very special photo – an “Elephie Selfie.”
Public tours are planned at a time that accommodates the structure and routines of the elephants and staff. Please be familiar with the location and plan to arrive at least 10-15 minutes before your scheduled tour appointment. Photos and flash photography are allowed. The cost is $25 for children ages 3-12, free for children 2 and younger, and $50 for adults.
For those who desire the ultimate experience and a truly private and intimate excursion, an EAF Private Encounter is for you. Whether it’s on your bucket list to touch an elephant or you are trying to impress a wife/husband, girl/boyfriend or create an unforgettable proposal, you will not be disappointed by scheduling a Private Encounter with the majestic elephant family.
Guests are up-close and personal with the Ark herd. Participants have an amazing experience meeting, feeding and watching the residents make beautiful art, elephant trunk hugs, elephie-selfies and learning what elephants do. Throughout the private encounter, knowledgeable staff share their love and passion for elephants while providing educational demonstrations on elephant husbandry. In return, a connection is formed that can only be understood by those who are touched and empowered by their introduction and experience of looking into the eyes of such an amazing and majestic creature.
“It is our hope that guests realize the need for human involvement and action to save this highly endangered species and understand the intimate bond and partnership formed between an animal and a human,” officials said.
A Private Encounter also allows staff to tailor discussion around topics that visitors are interested in. Guest may choose to have a hands-on experience to assist in bathing an elephant as well. Please call 580-317-8470 to inquire about available tour times and dates for when you would like to schedule.
A private encounter group rate is $500 for groups of five or fewer, with each additional individual being $50. A $250 deposit is required and is non-refundable upon booking a private encounter. If cancellation is needed, the tour can be credited to another available tour date or given as a donation. Private Encounters are by appointment only.
The Endangered Ark Foundation is at 2657 East 2070 Road in Hugo, Oklahoma. For more information, call 580-317-8470 or visit online at endangeredarkfoundation.org.