The Endangered Ark Foundation in Hugo, OK is such an incredible place; a circus elephant sanctuary where these animals can live and roam their 200 forested acres in Southeast Oklahoma, just 10 miles from the Red River Texas/Oklahoma border! The Forest of SE Oklahoma is very similar to their native forest in southern Asia. They house the 2nd largest elephant herd in the country. Located in Hugo, OK, the town is known as Circus City USA, where as many as 15 circuses once wintered, although there are only 2 now.
Endangered ARK offers public tours on Fridays and Saturdays seasonally. They also offer private tours during the week. Tickets are sold online. The tours fill up and sell out quickly, and one of our friends was buying her ticket separately and it was sold out so she didn’t get to go! Be sure and make your reservations in advance and if possible purchase all your tickets at one time.
Public Tours are offered at 10am and 11:30 am.
We arrived about 9:30am, and after a long drive, needed to use the restroom. The restrooms are located inside the gate, and you can’t enter until 10am (free-roaming guest and elephants don’t mix….) when the tour starts, which meant I missed several minutes of the tour and introduction, and asked questions that she had already discussed, plus they ONLY have port-a-pottys, SO my tip is GO BEFORE YOU GET THERE!
It also meant I missed the introduction of Dori and Whimpy! I already knew all about Dori from their website. At 3 years old, we had just missed her birthday party, a fun annual activity held in mid-August!
Her mother, Whimpy, was gently nuzzling Dori away, who still nurses but mom is in the process of weaning.
One of the most humorous moments came when Whimpy threw hay at a pigeon that came a little too close!
Endangered Ark does have a breeding program to help ensure the continuation of the Asian Elephant, which is considered Endangered in the wild. Their elephants are part of a Species Survival Plan with the AZA, and they loan out their males to breed with other zoos to continue a varied genetic pool. Dori was born at the sanctuary.
They then brought in Del Rita to show us how they care for her feet and bathe her.
She is also an artist, and she decorated a shirt and made a
Del Rita also showed off her tusk and teeth.
Unlike African elephants, female Asian elephants usually lack task and have what are called “tushes”, barely visible except when their mouth is open.
If you take a deep look inside, you can see her 4 teeth! They are huge! They passed around one so everyone could see it, and feel its weight, about 9 lbs!
Then we loaded up into the wagons to go out into the forest to feed the elephants!
Free-roaming, the elephants only come in for their treat! We were feeding them 1/3 of a banana, with the peel still on! They tell you to feed them quickly, because the elephants will leave if they think there is no more food.
I was so excited, and quickly handed over my camera when one of the employees offered to take our pictures for me!
That was a mistake, because this is really the BEST picture I got, and you can’t even see the elephant! I do have the incredible memory of touching and actually placing the banana in the elephants trunk! It was incredible!
I would have had time to take plenty of pictures of my son and the other boys with us, so I really suggest taking your own pictures.
I would have also gladly paid another $10/picture to Enchanted Ark for a good picture, and would really suggest they offer that for their guest, although I love that they allow us to take pictures!
Either way, it was a completely unforgettable experience!
We visited the gift shop before our tour, even picking out the shirts, etc. we wanted but since we didn’t want to walk back to our car, which wasn’t far and we ended up walking to anyways, I put off purchasing the shirts until after the tour.
After our tour, the gift shop was packed with people, both from our tour buying souvenirs and those just arriving for the 11:30am tour! I did get my shirts, including several that were painted by Del Rita herself!
Things To Do in Hugo, OK
After our tour, we headed over to the Mount Olivet Cemetery to see Showman’s Rest, a section of the cemetery reserved mostly for former circus members. The monuments are amazing, and while we were only there about 10-15 minutes, it was pretty neat.
Each year, the town of Hugo host a Christmas parade, and they bring out the elephants to walk in the parade, with Santa riding the lead elephant!
The reason that Hugo was so popular for the circuses was their moderate winter climate and the railroad depot. The Frisco Depot Museum in Hugo has exhibits from the hey-days in Hugo, plus a miniature train and circus. Click HERE for more information.
We loved our cheeseburgers at Angie’s Circus City Diner! Posters and pictures of Hugo’s circuses cover the walls. Click HERE for more information.
The State Park offers 2 types of cabins, primitive with just beds and a screened porch overlooking the lake, and larger “Resort” cabins, with 2 bedrooms, kitchen, bathrooms and a deck overlooking the lake. While I wasn’t able to get a cabin, we did go do a drive by of each, and for what they are, they were both nice. I would have really liked to have reserved a resort cabin and extended our stay in Hugo. The lake was very pretty, although we skipped out on swimming after seeing the swim beach, which was low and overgrown. There is a marina and boat dock at the park. Click HERE for more information.
Endangered Ark Foundation
2657 East 2070 Rd. Hugo, Ok.
Click HERE to visit their website.
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