Last August, Elizabeth Fonte was walking down Linden Avenue, and as she passed Siam Elephant restaurant, the vague concept she had been mulling over for some time became a crystal-clear vision.
Ellie grew up in Carpinteria and after college moved away to make her fortune. Now retired, she has returned to her old stomping grounds with a desire to do something big for the town she loves. She knows Carpinteria is a unique place with a big heart. So, she knew her vision was the perfect fit: fully funding and opening an environmentally-friendly sanctuary for rescued elephants to be centered at Linden Field (tinyurl.com/carp-elephants).
Ellie’s preliminary pachyderm plan was developed by some of the world’s leading experts in elephant rescue and rehabilitation facilities. Although elephants should live in the wild, that is not always possible. Many rescued from subpar facilities are not able to be returned to the wild. Carpinteria’s small beach town character makes it an ideal home for these elephants. Additionally, their necessary behavioral enrichment can be tailored to benefit the local community.
The plan includes multiple ways the elephants can assist the City Parks and Public Works Departments and reduce the use of expensive, noisy, and polluting heavy machinery for certain park maintenance and road work. For example, City Parks director Matt Roberts stated, “The elephants will be perfect for the seasonal effort to build and remove the winter berm on the beach. And if the timing works out, they could be a huge help with building the planned Rincon Multi-Use Trail.” (See: tinyurl.com/berm-helpers.)
The elephants that are especially good at interacting with people will have special summer activities including the daily moving of the city’s rental kayaks from the boat house to the beach and back, as well as assisting novice kayakers launch and land their kayaks – a sight sure to be popular among tourists and locals alike!
Other organizations also hope to develop partnerships that allow the elephants to bring their special skills to other parts of the community. Plans are being developed by Trail Stewards of Franklin Trail for how to use elephants in trail maintenance activities. Friends of Franklin Trail is investigating how the elephants could be used to help mobility-limited individuals experience the trail in ways they cannot now.
A particularly unique concept comes from Channel Islands Restoration who hopes to train elephants to perform habitat restoration work. Elephants eat roots, grasses, fruit, and bark and are normally not terribly picky about their menu. But CIR believes they can train elephants to focus their appetite on non-native invasive plant species, something that would be exceptionally useful for restoration work throughout the region since one elephant can consume up to 300 pounds of food in a single day.
The manure will be used at the Carpinteria Garden Park community garden and be available to all community members. (Remember, one elephant can consume up to 300 pounds of food in a single day!)
The plan includes appropriate landscaping enhancements to part of Linden Field where the barns will be located – a location conveniently close to both Tomol Interpretive Play Area and Siam Elephant restaurant, allowing visitors at both locations to enjoy the elephants next door.
At a recent Conceptual Review by the city, after listening attentively to the report on the proposal, Mayor Wade Nomura blurted out, “O.M.G. I love elephants!” (See video here: tinyurl.com/mayor-omg.) Members of the Architectural Review Board suggested improvements to the proposed barns including using locally-grown bamboo and changing to a thatch roof design using local palm fronds.
In response to concerns about elephants being a non-native species, it was pointed out that elephants are the closest living relatives of the Columbian mammoth that lived here during the Pleistocene Epoch. So, this is actually more of a restoration project.
Once the facility is established, researchers from UCSB and the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History hope to work with the elephants to test the theory that mammoths swimming to the Channel Islands were the ancestors of the pygmy mammoths there.
You can view the expected schedule for Ellie Fonte’s project here: tinyurl.com/elephant-sched.
The Draft EIR for the project is expected to be available April 1 of next year.