Elephant Excursions
Photos and story by Susan Winfree

Dr. Mark Wilson , who had the Marion Teaching Zoo at the Markets of Marion in Belleview for many years, has been working on a new project. Although not open to the public yet, I was invited to see what's been going on in his world. And as always, his world is filled with animals. He is committed to breeding, preserving and supporting endangered species.

Wilson, along with Brian Francen, are working together on Elephant Excursions. A new venue where, by reservation only, you will be taken on a 20 min. trail ride, on an elephant, where you can observe these gentle giants in their natural habitat."It will be about 20 or so, people at a time, no more" said Wilson. "When finished, we'll have seats where we can have educational presentations, and the cats will have a big playpen!"   Located on approximately 50 acres in Bushnell, just a few miles off I-75, The opening is projected for January 2008. For information call 352-867-7788.  Excursions are only in winter, itís too hot in the summer.

Brian raised these elephants and has been working with them all his life. He's from a circus family and with wife Irene who also works with the animals, travels north in summer with the elephants. Peru, Indiana is one circus town they go. These elephants love to perform!   And they love those little pink or yellow Easter Peeps!  It's so funny to watch them get their 'treats'. I think they must buy them by the truck load!

Right now there are 20 or so animals at the complex, no longer a teaching zoo, Dr. Wilson is developing outreach and internet programs. He said, "More animals will be brought in and more stuff will be built, as we are expanding all the time."