Cars lined up down the dirt road leading to Two Tails Ranch on Saturday morning for the third annual Elephant Appreciation Day.
Volunteers in bright yellow shirts took the reduced admission fee of $10 per person and guided guests to park in a large field.
Between 3,000 and 5,000 people were expected to attend the event. Some guests drove four hours to get the chance to interact with the elephants.
The ranch is home to six elephants, two males and four females. The event heavily featured Bunny, Luke and Roxy.
“Roxy and me were like sisters,” said Patricia Zerbini, owner of Two Tails Ranch.
Zerbini inherited the passion and profession of caring for exotic animals from her father. Roxy is 56 years old and the oldest elephant on the ranch, which was founded in 1984.
No electrified fences or barbed wire is used to keep the elephants contained.
“I could put up caution tape and keep my elephants under control,” she said.
The gentle and safe nature of her elephants was demonstrated during the photo opportunity guests could purchase for $25. A woman holding her infant sat on the elephant’s foot and posed for pictures. Zerbini watched from the side.
Many others waited in line to climb 11 steps to take a ride on an elephant.
Stacey Cleary was second in line with her husband and daughter.
“This is the first time we’ve been,” Cleary said. “Of course, princess here, wanted to ride an elephant, so we’ve been waiting here ever since.”
The event is a fundraiser for the ranch. It is held on the Saturday closest to the worldwide celebration of Elephant Appreciation Day, which is Sept. 22.
“It costs a lot to feed an elephant,” said John Irwin, an event volunteer. “Let’s not even talk about the bills.”
Each elephant eats between 250 and 400 pounds of food per day.
The humans dined on funnel cakes, kettle corn, french fries, hamburgers and hot dogs. Frozen drinks and smoothies were a popular choice as people crowded to under the shade of the trees to eat their snacks.
“Every penny here is spent long before we make it,” Zerbini said. “All the vendors that are here donate a portion of what they make back to the ranch.”
Vendors were accompanied by booths with information on local domestic animal rescues, service dog training and exotic animal care.
“I’ve known Patty for many years, and she is the premiere elephant woman in the world,” said Kay Rosaire, owner of Big Cat Habitat in Sarasota, Florida.
This is Rosaire’s second year of participation in elephant appreciation day. She brought three of her big cats and held a question and answer session for the guests.
“We really believe in what she’s doing,” she said. “We’ve got to save as many animals as we can.”
Two Tails Ranch employees, volunteers and employees of the Florida International Teaching Zoo staffed the event.
“It’s a great place,” said Fred Evick, of the Florida International Teaching Zoo. “A lot of people don’t even know it’s out here.”