When thinking about up-close encounters with animals — specifically Asian elephants — one may think you need to save for a trip to Thailand or India.
I’m sure the last place you thought to look is Hugo, Oklahoma, but Endangered Ark Foundation, an Oklahoma elephant sanctuary, brings this experience to Oklahoma animal lovers and beyond.
Endangered Ark Foundation is a private non-profit dedicated to caring for 16 Asian elephants and offers visitors the chance to get up close and personal with these gentle giants during their visit to Hugo, OK.
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Our experience started with a stay in one of the onsite cabin rentals in Hugo, OK.
The cabin was more of a “glamping” experience, with no television or wifi in the way of entertainment but plenty of board games and charming views.
The cabin interior boasts a rustic charm but does have everything you need to “glamp” in the south (air conditioning, heat, and a bathroom with a shower to rinse off the day’s sweat).
However, the real draw of the cabins arrived in the morning when a member of the organization’s Asian elephant herd brought a picnic-style breakfast to the front porch. This breakfast was a one-of-a-kind experience for sure!
Guests of the Endangered Ark Foundation get to collect their breakfast from the pachyderm and reward her with her own breakfast by hand-feeding her bananas, petting her trunk, and singing her praises.
If you’re staying in the cabins for a special event, like we were, the elephant may even walk up with a sign for your birthday or anniversary.
Additional staff can take your photo with the elephants, so you can fully immerse yourself in the elephant-feeding experience (don’t worry about the gram, they’ve got you!).
Currently, cabin rentals are booked through the nonprofit’s partner, Oklahoma Awesome Adventures, and cost between $375 – $500 a night for two people depending on the day of the week selected. Each additional guest is $15, and the two-bedroom cabins can sleep up to five guests (though we recommend only four adults).
Following the cabin stay, we went to the Endangered Ark Foundation front gates for a private tour of the Oklahoma elephant sanctuary.
This tour is not included in the cabin stay, but well worth the extra money, especially if you love elephants!
We checked in and began our tour, learning about the youngest member of the herd, a baby male elephant named Cameron Lee.
Cameron Lee was having a blast eating hay in the barn and playing with a small tire and a ball. According to caretakers, he shows out when people visit in hopes there will be snacks.
After visiting the baby elephant, caretakers bring one of the larger elephants into the barn to demonstrate how to care for the elephant’s feet. Visitors watch as the elephant gets a pedicure that rivals human salons (the animals get snacks!).
The key differences between elephants from Asia and African elephants are discussed before a demo of how the artwork throughout the nonprofit’s giftshop is made.
During our visit, our elephant Delrita, held perfectly still while caretakers put nontoxic acrylic paint on her foot and then stepped down beautifully on an elephant-size paper — human-size poster board.
After the interactive educational demonstrations in the barn were complete, we set out via a golf cart to see the grounds and other elephants who live in the second largest herd at a private nonprofit. Endangered Ark Foundation boasts 16 elephants in their herd, three males and 13 females.
While touring the grounds, guests hand-feed members of the herd chopped vegetables and have the opportunity to pet the elephant’s trunks — making this a one-of-a-kind experience.
We chose to add the wash demo to our tour. For an additional $40, participants 13 years old and older can help bathe the elephant for her daily wash.
This was an unforgettable experience for everyone in our group and allowed us to connect with the elephants in a fun and meaningful way.
Endangered Ark Foundation also offers public tours during pre-scheduled time slots. According to their website, the public tour includes taking a selfie with the elephants, visiting the preserve, and learning more about the Asian elephant and the preservation efforts of this fabulous non-profit organization.
Tours of this non-profit organization are perfect for the whole family or an intimate date with your special person.
All tours require a reservation and can be made at endangeredarkfoundation.org.
Asian Elephants & Events
Endangered Ark Foundation also holds various family-friendly events at the facility throughout the year, such as an easter egg hunt, Fourth of July celebration, and birthday parties for members of the herd.
Of course, the foundation also prides itself on educating the public about its wildlife, so they host numerous school groups throughout the year.
Located in Hugo, a small town 9 miles from the Texas border, the nonprofit sits at a prime location to draw visitors from nearby Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, or elephant lovers from across the country, exactly what D.R. and Isla Miller hoped for their elephants.
Endangered Ark Foundation
Though The Endangered Ark Foundation was the brainchild of former circus owners and elephant lovers D.R. & Isla Miller, elephants at this facility are not there to perform.
Instead, the private non-profit, whose mission is to preserve endangered Asian elephants, provides a retirement ranch for circus elephants and educates the public about this endangered species.
These animals are so intelligent and magnificent. Our experience with the elephants is something I will never forget!
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About the Author
Tiffany Ditto is a marketing specialist and content creator in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Ditto holds a Master of Science in Digital Communication Analytics and a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of North Texas. When not working, she enjoys spending time with my spunky Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Riley, and rambunctious Bengal Cat, Lilura.