- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 2, 2015

FRENCH LICK, Ind. (AP) - George Barreda grew up with elephants in Florida and continued the family tradition.

They’ve been in operas, documentaries, circuses, weddings but are mostly are used for educational purposes, Barreda said. But for nearly three months of this summer, they’ve been taking a vacation at Wilstem Ranch near French Lick.

“It’s been in the works for almost five years,” Barreda explained. “It’s relaxing for them. The reception has been great.”

Three female African elephants are enjoying Hoosier hospitality until Sept. 13.

Public access to the elephants has been restricted to allow the elephants to just be themselves, said Jerry Fuhs, who owns the ranch with his wife, Carolyn.

Friday through Sunday, at 9:30 a.m., guests can give the elephants spa treatment by helping to shampoo the elephants and painting their nails with minerals, for example. And educational seminars are held at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Sundays.

Barreda, 60, and his daughter Julia Barreda, 24, talk with guests about elephants. Their trunks have more than 100,000 muscles and can lift more than 700 pounds. They live between 50 and 70 years, with the oldest one on record living to the age of 82, she told about 50 attendees on one Saturday morning.

“They have the world’s largest eyelashes,” Julia said. “If you get up close, you can see their pretty eyelashes. They have an amazing sense of smell. It’s four times that of a bloodhound.”

The largest of the three elephants staying in French Lick weighs about 10,000 pounds, she said. The heaviest on record weighed 27,000 pounds, and African elephants have a gestation period of almost two years. Typically, they have babies about once every five years, and babies are born weighing between 200 and 300 pounds, she told the crowd. They also stand about 3 feet tall.

The elephant guests have been popular at the ranch, Jerry Fuhs said.

“But really, it’s about the girls,” he said. “It’s a chance for them … to just be elephants. Yeah, we’ve been very busy, but it’s just for them to kick back for a while. … We limit the time to the public.”

He said back in the 1910s, Wilstem had elephants frequently when a circus was more popular in Paoli, but this is the first time the ranch has been a home to elephants in roughly 100 years.

“We have the grounds and trees and shelter and a mud hole for them, which is really everything elephants need,” Fuhs said. “We are assessing the options for them to come back.”

Barreda said the reception has been great for his elephants, and the facility has provided for their care.

For visitors in Orange County, it provides a chance for children to see an elephant up close, maybe for the first time, and to learn about the massive animals.

Cindy and Perry Smith of Indianapolis were staying at a cabin on the ranch with their grandchildren, Ellie and Evan Faulkner, for a weekend getaway.

“I don’t think they’ve ever been close to an elephant,” she said.

And Cindy Smith and her husband had never been to French Lick before, but her neighbor has been telling her about it.

“It’s just a mini vacation,” she said.

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Source: The (Bedford) Times-Mail, https://bit.ly/1O5E11X.

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Information from: The Times-Mail, https://www.tmnews.com


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