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East County Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020 1 year ago

Ranch provides un-herd of experience in east Bradenton

Public can visit Myakka City nonprofit and its three elephants starting in November .
by: Liz Ramos Staff Writer

When going to the Myakka Elephant Ranch, be sure not to have anything sweet in your pocket because Lou, an African savanna elephant, will be able to sniff it out.

Lou, who is also the matriarch of the ranch’s three elephants, is friendly, outgoing and affectionate, which makes it easy for people to feed her watermelon, apples or carrots from their hands.

When Lou isn’t getting a bath or interacting with a ranch visitor or staff member, she’s walking around the ranch and occasionally throwing mud on herself to keep cool. 

Anyone can experience what it’s like to care for Lou and the two Asian elephants at Myakka Elephant Ranch through its three encounters that combine an experience with education.

“We believe that education combined with experience is going to lead to lasting conservation efforts,” said Kellen Braren, the community outreach director for Myakka Elephant Ranch. “We believe the experience hits home and empowers and impassions people to go out and find conservation efforts of their own or support efforts around the world in their own way.”

The ranch, which is a nonprofit supporting global elephant conservation efforts, was started in last December by its founder and CEO, Lou Jacob.

Jacob, who was born in Sarasota and later moved to Myakka City, has always been passionate about elephants, so when he had the chance to go to the International Elephant Foundation’s International Elephant Conservation and Research Symposium in South Africa earlier in 2019, he jumped at the opportunity.

The symposium allows elephant conservationists and researchers from around the world to discuss different topics including new technologies in field conservation and conflict mitigation, conservation projects and research outcomes and studies in disease, reproduction and behavior.

From there, Jacob interned at a zoo in Germany to learn more about caring for elephants and had the idea to start the Myakka Elephant Ranch.

The 10-acre ranch in Myakka City cares for two Asian elephants and an African savanna elephant while focusing on education, conservation and providing a unique experience to its visitors.

Depending on the encounter chosen, people can watch the elephants in their pasture, feed them their favorite treats, spend an hour bathing the elephants and learn more about the elephants and the conservation efforts of the nonprofit. Visitors can begin visiting Nov. 6.

Myakka Elephant Ranch visitors MacGregor Monroe and Alea Dellecave enjoy interacting with one of the elephants on the ranch. Courtesy photo.

“Once you’ve had that one-on-one experience, it’s just on your heart,” said Julia Braren, the nonprofit’s sales director and who is Jacob’s sister and Kellen Braren’s wife. “It tugs on the heartstrings once you get up close and personal and are able to understand. It’s part of what you want to contribute to. It’s such a beautiful thing. When you hear the statistics of the decline [in elephants], you want to help save them and preserve these majestic animals.”

Through elephant encounter bookings and donations, the ranch raises money for the its conservation and education center and global conservation and education efforts through its partnerships with International Elephant Foundation and the Rory Hensman Conservation and Research Unit.

The nonprofit hopes to expand its facilities in 2021 with a 5-acre habitat expansion project to give the elephants more space to play and dig. The nonprofit also wants to add a natural watering hole as well as natural foliage and toys for them to eat, dig and play.

“We have plenty of trees on the property,” Kellen Braren said. “They like to pull down dead branches and eat the leaves. We’d like to add some features because they like to scratch up against things and play with things.”

Julia Braren said the nonprofit hasn’t been able to expand its outreach efforts due to COVID-19. Myakka Elephant Ranch has 10% of the cost of the encounters go toward community outreach. 

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