Patricia Zerbini has 10 children. Four biological sons and six adopted two-ton babies. Her adopted children: Bunny, Luke, Rajah, Roxy, Patti and Tiki are Asian elephants she is raising on her farm in Williston.
Zerbini has worked with Two Tails Ranch, located on 18655 NE 81st St., since 1985, a year after it was founded. There, she cares for her elephant “children” and other exotic animals. Stemming from a long line of exotic animal activists, she is the primary caretaker and relies on donations and volunteers to keep her work alive.
Over the weekend, almost 1,500 visitors came out to show their support.
“[There has been an] overwhelming response,” Zerbini said. “We’ve had gorgeous weather. Our last two events got rained out… so I’m thanking everyone and God himself.”
Guests were able to feed, ride and learn about the elephants during educational presentations. Animal rescues like Big Cat Habitat and Gulf Coast Sanctuary in Sarasota also held demonstrations of their furry friends.
“I try to help all the animal facilities that have mouths to feed that aren’t human,” Zerbini said.
In addition to housing, her family of gentle giants, Zerbini also boards exotic animals from all over the country. When zoos need to move animals for repairs or rescues can no longer afford to keep an animal, Zerbini is there with open arms.
“After hurricanes, when Andrew went through, I brought in a bunch of the elephants from down south,” Zerbini said.
Her latest addition is Bambi, a European brown bear from Pennsylvania.
For many guests, it was the first time they’d heard of Two Tails Ranch.
Estelle Ray, 61, traveled from Crystal River to cross an item off her bucket list. She completed the task when she rode Roxy, a 56-year-old female elephant whose favorite snack is watermelon.
“She’s just wonderful,” Ray said. “She’s so gentle and majestic. I mean just to be on her is like — I don’t know to explain it — she’s just wonderful.”
Ray said she heard about the event through word of mouth, and though it was her first time visiting the ranch, it won’t be her last.
Ann Lambert of Ormond Beach agrees. She went home with a special souvenir from her new friend Luke, a 12,000 pound male elephant who loves to paint and play soccer. He also donated his talents to the fundraiser.
“Luke loves to paint. He would always pick up sticks and draw in the sand,” Zerbini said. “It’s not work for him. It’s a treat, so if he’s good, I’ll bring out the easel and let him have some fun.”
Crowds cheered in awe as Luke picked up his paintbrush and carefully marked strokes on his easel. Lambert won the painting in an auction for $155. The money, she said, was well spent.
“Well this is just so awesome because if you love an elephant, and you watch an elephant paint, and you know Luke loves it, how could you not want it… and to have a part of him with you, it’s just beautiful,” Lambert said. “It’s gonna have a special place in our home.”
Zerbini said all proceeds will go to purchasing animal feed. She said her elephants eat between 200 and 450 pounds of food each day, costing more than $3,000 per week.
The ranch also needs new fencing. By expanding the animal enclosures, Zerbini said she can give her elephants more space to roam and create extra room to board animals. She started a GoFundMe page for the project but has only raised $135 of the $75,000 needed so far. She said she’s had to dip into her savings to begin the process, which costs about $15 per foot.
“Basically, what we try to do is to put enough into our emergency fund. Right now, because of that fencing project, that fund is down,” Zerbini said. “My main goal is to bring that emergency fund back up where it needs to be so that I can sleep well at night.”
Admission was $10 and free for children ages 2 and younger.
Zerbini said this event has had the highest attendance yet. She usually opens the property for just one day but this year decided to extend the event to Saturday and Sunday.
She said the ranch made more than $25,000 over the weekend, the most ever raised during an Elephant Appreciation Day. The ranch as held three other Elephant Appreciation Days as well as other fund raising events.
“The amount of people that support the ranch is just heartwarming,” Zerbini said. “It really is.”
Story updated on Sept. 24 to reflect the amount of money raised at the event.