Elephants coming to the Treasure Coast

Some unique tourists will be packing their trunks soon for the Treasure Coast.


What was once a vast orange grove just south of the Indian River-Brevard County line, is now a pachyderm paradise.


After years of planning, the National Elephant Center is taking shape.


The 2.4 million dollar first phase is a collaborative effort between more than 70 accredited zoos around the country.


"It's a place where the elephants can stay if their exhibit is under construction, if their staff needs training, if the elephants need training. Breeding can take place here. It's also a rescue facility so if an elephant is in private hands that needs help, we have a home for them now, said Keith Winsten with the National Elephant Center.


There is a barn that can house up to nine elephants, a keeper work center, and elephant habitats.  John Lehnhardt fell in love with elephants the first day he worked as an assistant zookeeper in Chicago.


"There are about 475-480 elephants in North America and our goal is to help support that population of elephants in North America survive into the future," said Lehnhardt.


Even though the elephant center is on the outskirts of town, businesses in Fellsmere are hoping that tourists will eventually come stampeding in.


At Ditch 13 Gallery and Gifts on Broadway Street, owner Nic Ruege has some National Elephant Center shirts and other elephant mementos for sale.


"It's a great promotion for the area. We have a great ecosystem here and I think the elephants fit in perfectly," said Ruege.


Some residents think it will be neat to be known for something beyond the Frog Leg Festival.


"It would bring some interest anyway. People would say have you seen that elephant thing down there?" said Fellsmere resident Leonard Schwenneker.


The Center won't be open to the public, but the plan is to create some kayaking and hiking trails around it in the future so people will get the chance to see these majestic creatures. 


The first elephants are scheduled to arrive in late Spring.  

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