Six Asian elephants were waving their trunks at an audience of hundreds Saturday for the Seventh Annual Elephant Appreciation Day.
The event, which was hosted Saturday and Sunday at Two Tails Ranch in Williston, Florida, is a fundraiser for the care of for the facility’s animals. Over 2,700 people came out on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., said Patricia Zerbini, the owner of the ranch. It cost $10 per person to get into the event.
Growing up in the circus business, Zerbini, 54, said her passion for elephants began when she was 14 years old when her dad purchased several animals, including elephants.
“My family’s been working with exotics for nine generations,” she said. “My dad specialized in big cats, my grandfather in primates and I picked elephants.”
For additional costs, visitors fed and rode elephants, which eat between 250-400 pounds of food per day.
There were also other animal enclosures for zebras and tigers. Over a dozen vendors sold food such as fried Oreos, tacos and hot dogs, and sold elephant-themed art and products featuring President Donald Trump.
Ashton Biodiversity Research and Preservation Institute had a newt, tortoise and snake for guests to touch and learn about at Two Tails Ranch’s Seventh Annual Elephant Appreciation Day on Sunday.
Two Tails Ranch is an educational elephant care facility. It was founded in 1984, but has been providing up-close elephant encounters by appointment since 2009, according to its website.
For the first time in the event’s history, Zerbini said she had to hire security from the Levy County Sheriff’s Office because animal rights activists threatened her via email, phone and Facebook.
The ranch has cared for over 300 elephants since opening in 1984, but she said it is not a sanctuary or rescue. She said there’s a difference between animal welfare and animal rights and places herself in the welfare camp. She said she believes the goal of animal rights groups is to end all human-animal interaction.
Biker and cancer survivor Tim Dyson, 43, performs a freestyle motocross exhibition at Two Tails Ranch in Williston, Florida on Saturday. An 18-year veteran of motocross, Dyson has performed his aerial stunts for audiences in 32 countries.
She said she doesn’t force the animals to do things they don’t want to do.
“Not every elephant is going to do rides, not every elephant is going to be good with people,” she said. “Each one is going to have certain characteristics that you’re going to pull from and have them do and perform.”
Gemma, 4, won a plush pony, despite missing several shots in a balloon-popping carnival game.
Her father, Paul DeKeyser, 39, brought her and her grandparents from Orlando for the opportunity to interact with elephants.
“We go to the Animal Kingdom in Orlando, but you just can’t interact with the animals like you do at this place,” he said.
Patricia Zerbini, 54, the proprietor of Two Tails Ranch, guides several of her elephants to a paddock where she then answered questions about the animals. Elephant Appreciation Days were held at the ranch on Saturday and Sunday in order to raise awareness of elephant welfare efforts, as well as fundraising for their care.