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Nestled on 1,100 acres in the heart of Southern Indiana is an amazing place that not only acts as a haven for wonderful animals, but educates people about them as they connect with nature. A stone’s throw from French Lick and super close to Paoli is a treat for the family that is not to be missed: Wilstem Ranch.
You don’t really have much to plan. They already have it all planned out for you with different experiences. All you need to do is to pick from the different types of activities available for you and your family. Going on a crazy adventure with your spouse could really spice things up in your relationship or you can take the littles and let them enjoy the built in petting zoo and experiences wtih exotic animals. Activities such zip-lining, the elephant encounter, the giraffe encounter, horse riding into the woods, and more are available and instead of one huge price tag? You can pick and choose what you want to do for a smaller fee. Regardless of which animal encouter you choose, you pick up your tickets at the red barn and get directions.
We tried the Wilstem Ranch Elephant Encounter First
The description read: Learn all you could want to know about an elephant. This encounter is focused on learning about these amazing creatures. You will get to ask questions, touch, and take one-of-a-kind photos! And they were pretty true to their words.
There are so many beautiful creatures in the world; one of them is the elephant. They are big fat creatures, awe-inspiring with their intelligence and fun. I’m sure you must have seen them in movies or on the television, especially with the last Disney remake: Dumbo. They are very peaceful gentle giants that are very organized and cherish family a lot like humans.
We learned a few fun fact about elephants like they can eat for almost the whole day and have to to maintain their large body. After eating a whole bunch of grasses all-day, you should be able to guess the outcome or result of that. Their poo is always as massive as their size, very useful for soil enrichment and suitable for agricultural purposes. We learned about the problems with poachers, how their tusks have a live root/nerve like our human teeth and that their skin is really as thin as ours. He went on for quite a while about how amazing and useful their ears are – that they regulate everything from temperature to hearing.
The other cool thing? Lu had two pet donkeys. Being a pack animal, and matriarch, bull elephants (males) wouldn’t work in her heard so they had to re-home them… the donkeys fill that need and keep her comfortable.
Miss Sarah was upset with hearing of the people who hunt them down illegally to get rid of their tusks and therefore cause harm to them one way or the other… often killing the elephant to take the tusks leaving babies alone. That is what happened to Lu, she was an orphan that was brought over to the states a few years back.
We zipped over to Paoli for a quick lunch at Porky’s BBQ -yum! We would have brought a picnic lunch but we weree camping and they day was pretty hot – we opted to support the local economy.
Then came the Wilstem Ranch Grizzly Encounter
The description read: Learn about Bob, Screech, and get educated on how to stay safe in bear country. This encounter is focused on learning about these amazing animals. You will get to ask questions and take one-of-a-kind photos!
Jeff “the bear man” Watson was our guide through this and super knowledgeable, in his laid back way. He is a professional bear trainer/wrangler and even played the Grizzly Adams in the 1999 TV movie P.T. Barnum. We got a kick out of how he tossed cookies to the Bob and Screech as quick fodder when he was interacting with them and talking to us. Now don’t jump on him for the cookies – he also tossed each of them an orange…at the waterfall. He said a “fed animal is a dead animal” because feeding a wild animal leads them to associate food with people – and rely on people to feed them. We weren’t allowed to feed them because it waould train them to go after the crowd for food instead of looking just at Jeff.
We also learned that Grizzly bears are easier to read – they know what to expect and love a routine. The cookies helped keep these large fur balls entertained and had them at the certain spots with no fuss. They would nuzzle him for them, but Jeff kept an eye out – dancing away from them quickly a time or two during our visit. Bottom line? They are frigging huge at anywhere from 800-1,500 pounds and an average man wouldn’t stand a chance.
Black bears can turn on you like flipping a light switch – regardless, all bears make lousy pets. They are wild animals at heart and no matter what you try to do with training, that won’t change.
Bob has a little limp, before he was rescued, he had an injury and lost most of the toes on his back right foot – but that doesn’t seem to slow him down much. Screech was fine and loved hanging out in the creek to try and cool off.
Please keep in mind that both encounters were a smaller space but when the animals are “off duty” they have plenty of land to roam…as does the giraffe and kangaroo stars. You can tell that the animal caretakers really are concerned with their welfare, even in the heat.
Between encounters, you have access to the petting zoo – where you can feed birds, see tortoises, kangaroos, goats, chickens and even ringtailed lemurs. You can also check out the gift shop – I found a sharp elephant necklace that will remind me of Lu snuggling with me when she wrapped her trunk around my waist when we were getting ready for our picture. She is a sweetie!
There is so much more to do at Wilstem Ranch, even renting cabins to stay on the property! If you are close by in the are of the French Lick Resort – Wilstem Ranch is a stone’s throw away and worth checking out! It is one of the 10 best places in the US to see and interact with large animals and we totally enjoyed ourselves as we learned! Hurry though, I believe I heard Jeff say he had a 3-year contract with Wilstem and his bears … you really want to see them!
Other fun things to do:
- Hollywood Candy Sucked Me Down the Rabbit Hole
- Boys Town: The Making of a Saint Father Flannagan
- Let Your Inner Child Play at the Omaha Children’s Museum
- What to Look For in a Hotel to Eat Healthier
- Henry Doorley Zoo and Aquarium is Mindblowing Fun for Littles
- Look Again at the Coco Key Omaha Water Park Hotel