© 2021 Maine Public
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Elephants at Maine Sanctuary to be Returned to Oklahoma

Courtesy Hope eleph

HOPE, Maine - The two elephants from Hope, Maine, will return to their previous sanctuary in Oklahoma following the death of their caretaker, Jim Laurita. On Tuesday morning, Laurita was found dead in the animals' barn from a crushing injury to the chest caused accidentally by one of the elephants.  

The announcement from the Hope Elephants' Board of Directors was posted on Facebook Wednesday afternoon. It says that the organization's first responsibility is the care for Rosie and Opal. To that end, the two elephants will be returned to the facility they came from - the Carson and Barnes Endangered Ark facility in Oklahoma.

Mark Latti from Maine's Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife says a handler from Carson and Barnes was due to arrive in Maine Wednesday to care for the elephants in the meantime.

"You know, the elephants in the short term are well-cared for. That was one of our prioritites," he says. "We'll be checking in periodically to make sure that that continues."

The animal rights organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals issued a statement Wednesday urging that the elephants be transferred to a sanctuary in a warmer climate. PETA attorney Brittany Peet says Laurita’s death should serve as a wake-up call that free contact with elephants easily becomes deadly contact.

"PETA has called on the captive elephant community to engage only in 'protected contact,' which is the safest way to handle elephants," she says, "both for the elephants and the handlers."

In protected contact, elephants and handlers are never together in the same space. The animals are fed and taken care of through barriers. Peet says retired circus elephants should also live in warmer climates to ease common health issues like arthritis.

"These elephants deserve to be sent to a true, accredited sanctuary in a more appropriate, warmer climate where they will be handled safely and humanely, and where they will have acres and acres of land to roam with an elephant group," she says.

In its statement, the Hope Elephants' board said veterinarian and caretaker Jim Laurita's expectation was clear: "He taught us the meaning of stewardship," the board said, "and was unequivocal in expressing his belief that our first responsibility was to ensure the continued well-being of Rosie and Opal."

Hope Elephants has created The Jim Laurita Fund to help the organization pay his family back more than $300,000 Laurita loaned to the organization.

The Hope Elephants' board's entire statement is below:

Statement from the Board of Directors of Hope Elephants
We, like all who knew and loved Dr. Jim Laurita, are devastated by his passing. The extent of this tragic loss can be measured in direct proportion to the extraordinary number of lives he touched. Jim is truly irreplaceable, leaving a monumental hole in our community and beyond. When considered, that is not surprising for a man who was an inspirational educator, turning every interaction into a teachable moment. Jim loved life, and saw all creatures, large and small, as integral parts of the most majestic tapestry imaginable. He allowed Rosie and Opal to serve as ambassadors, helping us understand their place and ours in the world we share.

We will ensure that Hope Elephants continues to exist and thrive, bringing meaning to its mission while serving to honor and fulfill Jim’s legacy. The Board was already in the midst of a strategic planning process to define how we could best fulfill our mission. While that process will continue with renewed vigor, without Jim at the helm it will obviously need redefinition and re-imagination. We will value the guidance of all of our stakeholders including the communities surrounding Hope, Maine, teachers, students, conservationists, and all who came to love and treasure Jim, Rosie and Opal.

For Jim, his first thought, always, was for the well-being of “his girls”. The sacrifices that he made to make Hope Elephants possible and sustainable were incredible. Everyone who knew him appreciated that his commitment was total. To that end, over the past few years, Jim sold his veterinary practice to raise money to fund the operation, lent money to the organization, deferred taking much of his already modest salary, funded equipment purchases, and more. In total, Hope Elephants owed Jim more than $300,000 at his death. This obligation from us represents substantially the entire net worth of Jim’s family. Therefore, Hope Elephants has created The Jim Laurita Fund which is gratefully accepting contributions that will be used to meet this need and provide support for Carrie, Henry and Louis. Instructions for supporting this fund are at the bottom of this statement and any and all assistance represents a touching and much appreciated tribute to Jim.

Lastly, Jim’s expectation of us was clear. He taught us the meaning of stewardship and was unequivocal in expressing his belief that our first responsibility was to ensure the continued well-being of Rosie and Opal. To that end, at least for the present, we will be returning the girls to the well-established, elephant care facility from which they came to us. They go back having greatly benefited from the host of therapies that Jim oversaw and we will work to see that those continue, so that Jim’s innovative veterinary techniques will benefit not only Rosie and Opal but, hopefully, other elephants as well.

For now, as we continue to care for two magnificent elephants that were a major part of Jim’s life for the past three decades, we turn our thoughts and prayers to his family and all who knew and loved him. We have lost a husband, father, son, brother, teacher, doctor, and friend. He touched our hearts in profound ways that will be with us always, and serve as the inspiration for his legacy which we are committed to preserve.

 The Board of Directors of Hope Elephants

 You may donate to the Jim Laurita Fund online at:

 Or make donation checks out to:

Hope Elephants – Jim Laurita Fund
Hope Elephants
P.O Box 2025
Hope, ME 04847