We held our first Elephant Grape Stomp in 2004 to celebrate the arrival of 71, Mara, Minnie, Rebecca and Annie at ARK 2000. The five original elephants were moved to ARK 2000 shortly after our first barn, the current African barn, was constructed.
We learned about the fondness all elephants display for “everything grape” when 71 was a sickly little baby with no appetite for food. I was voraciously reading any book I could find on wild elephants, and remembered a particularly amusing and informative one, Congo Kitabu by Jean Pierre Hallet, which I had read in the ’70s.
At that time, I appeared on a few talk shows with the author and loved his hilarious story about a group of elephants in Africa who found a tree with an abundance of overripe, fermented fruit. The entire herd remained to partake of the bounty. That harvest celebration soon developed into a riotous party of drunken elephants throwing fruit as they slid around the ground, trumpeting and squealing, smashing through the orchard, delighted with the chaos they were creating. The description in the book sounded like a Bacchanalian revel.
The anecdote prompted me to try a variety of fruits which 71 occasionally ate in small quantities, but grapes were always devoured instantly. When local vineyards pruned their vines and donated them to the animals, they became a special favorite of the dilettante baby elephant.
We planted the first grapevines at the Galt sanctuary that year, and they are still fruitful. We brought a truckload of those vines from Galt to ARK 2000 for this year’s festivities held last Saturday (Oct. 15), and the elephants chomped happily on the addition to the feast of grapes donated by Costco for the event.
After the first five elephants arrived at the new property in 2003, many of our neighbors brought fruit to the elephants; the vineyards drove truckloads of grape vine clippings, and the girls ate them like candy. We also learned of the local Calaveras County Grape Stomp which occurs earlier in October, just after harvest.
Our first Elephant Grape Stomp was celebrated in 2004 providing our donors an opportunity to visit the new facility. PAWS enthusiastic supporters have loyally attended the popular event which has grown in size for the past seven years.
Il Fornaio has donated gourmet food to PAWS events since 1995 — Jeff Newland, one of the owners, always brings an entourage of chefs and servers who prepare and serve food to guests, also feeding volunteers and keepers who often miss lunch during the event.
A crowd of over 450 visitors attended the Grape Stomp this year, enjoying some very special entertainment from the six bears, five lions, 26 tigers and nine elephants who cavorted, stalked, roared, chomped and stomped the variety of grapes, vines, pumpkins and other treats and toys that were scattered about their habitats.
Local wineries have donated wine and servers each year and guests always enjoy the profusion of wines from the California Gold Country’s award-winning vineyards.
Jack, the last bear transported from Galt, was incredibly blasé about the event, noisily gorging on grapes and acorns, ignoring the crowd and the excitement.
Sabu and Prince, the two new bull elephants, were quite curious about the visitors, enjoying the plethora of new faces and activity. Sabu, who is very quiet and reserved, delighted all of us when he played with new toys hung from the fence that morning by Margaret and Brian. It was a milestone moment.
Prince nonchalantly posed on the hill pushing a fallen tree around as the visitors oohed and ahhed. Nicholas, the veteran of Grape Stomp festivities, casually watched the crowds, accepting their admiration with gracious aplomb.
Mara, Maggie and Lulu trumpeted their greetings as the vans unloaded the guests at the African habitat; Mara, our elephant version of Miss Piggy, rumbled requests for more treats every few minutes and Maggie roared and trumpeted her demands for attention, batting her long eyelashes at the enrapt crowd.
Lulu, the quintessential lady, stood demurely at a distance waiting for me or her keeper, Michelle, to bring the delicacies to her. Lulu does not compete.
Gypsy huffed and puffed back and forth from the treat area to BFF Wanda who refused to walk the distance for a few tasty morsels. When Gypsy roamed too far, she rumbled her “return immediately” call which galvanized Gypsy to action. After the few moment’s separation, when the two were reunited, they squeaked, chirped, roared and rumbled in a noisy display of affection which enchanted the audience. Wanda, like Maggie, simply calls her friends when she misses the attention, then stands, almost smirking, when Gypsy drops everything and races to find her.
Last year, Wanda and Maggie’s fans, from Detroit and Alaska, battled to win the title of Ms. Tuskany for their candidates, and Wanda won. Detroit was elated.
This year, Maggie benefitted from the presence of Maggie Ferrari Rowland, one of her adoptive parents, who shamelessly spiked the ballot and Maggie won, with dear little Lulu showing a close second. Click here to view a slide show of Maggie’s win.
All the elephants were winners, happily eating the beautiful wreaths made of edible fruits and plants, lovingly designed by PAWS volunteers. Grapes and vines were chomped and yes, Lucy and Ethel, ELEPHANTS DO STOMP GRAPES!
Pat Derby is president and co-founder of the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS).
The PAWS Elephant Grape Stomp is held each year on the third Saturday in October. Thank you to the following: PAWS staff and volunteers; Jeff Newland/Il Fornaio; Maggie Ferrari Rowland/Jelly Belly/Maggie Ferrari Jewelry Design; The Dessert Cart; Miss Calaveras 2011 and her court; Costco; Devra Lewis and her Blue Mountain Shuttle team; all the wineries — Black Sheep Wines, Bodega del Sur, Brice Station Wines, Catano Wines, Chatom Vineyard, Chateau Routon, Coppermine Winery, Hovey Wines, Irish Vineyards, Ironstone Vineyards, Metate Hill Vineyards, Milliare Wines, Renner Vineyards, Stevenot Winery, Tanner Wines, Twisted Oak Winery, Vina Moda Winery, Zucca Mountain Vineyards; and everyone who donated to our silent auction!