Though it was a drizzly day, that didn’t stop more than 150 people from heading out to the Camden Snow Bowl on Saturday, Sept. 22. The inaugural “Rocktoberfest” was rock concert to benefit Hope Elephants, a unique rehabilitation and educational facility for retired elephants located in Hope, Maine.
Out on the lawn, gourmet food trucks included 2 Smokin’ Guys, who served pulled pork and ribs, Big Bob’s Big Dogs, whose specialty was the half pound hotdog, and Taco Libre, a Midcoast vendor whose Mexican fare is fresh as it is authentic. Inside the Snow Bowl, Hope Orchards provided hot cider and Elephant Tracks (a.k.a. Elephant Ears) and Mainely Bartenders served up beer and wine.
Local musicians played constantly from 4 to 10 p.m headlined by Creatures of Habit, featuring guitarist Gary Clancy. Other guests included Josieda Lord, Tom Ulichny and Resa Randolph as more than 60 danced out under the covered back deck.
“All the teens were up on the hill side watching us dance and laughing,” said Jim Laurita, founder of Hope Elephants and one of the organizers behind the event. Laurita and Asian elephants Rosie (43) and her companion Opal (41) were the subjects of the article “Hope for Rosie” in Yankee Magazine’s September/October issue.
“It was a great first effort,” said Laurita. “We’ll definitely be back next year.”
The fundraiser took in more than $4,000, which is all earmarked for the operating expenses, the barn that will house the elephants and the costs of transporting the elephants to Maine.
It might be surprising to many who only know of Laurita as a veterinarian in Hope that in his youth, he was once an elephant trainer, treating and caring for elephants in India, at the Bronx Zoo, the Wildlife Safari in Oregon and at Cornell’s veterinary school. His connection to Rosie goes back more than 30 years to when he worked for the circus which Rosie and Opal called home for most of their lives.
“I have pictures of them when I’m taller than them,” he said.
Right now ,both elephants reside in Oklahoma where they have been retired from work at the circus and are kept at the circus’s winter quarters. Rosie and Opal have both sustained past injuries and suffer from nerve damage. Jim and his brother, Tom Laurita, have both been working steadily since February 2011 to find a way to bring elephants to Maine and give them superior care. With the community’s help with fundraising, the dream has turned into a reality. A heated barn with a double-steel fence and paddock will be their new home surrounded by serene acres. With the new barn’s state-of-the-art equipment, medicine and nutritional support, the elephants will receive high-end physical therapy to ease their suffering. They will receive daily therapeutic ultrasound treatment, hydrotherapy, and low-impact exercise on the world’s first elephant water treadmill.
Laurita said the response to the Yankee article and the community anticipation to the arrival of the elephants has been wonderful.
“It’s difficult to explain in just a sentence what we’re doing," he said. "The goals of elephant rehabilitation and our over-arching goal of conservation is to help the species achieve sustainability, so I think that article really explained the nitty gritty of what we’re doing. It’s great to have a national magazine really get it."
According to Laurita, it’s only a matter of weeks when Rosie and Opal will arrive at their new home in Hope.
“As you can imagine, something like this is very complicated.” said Laurita. “I’m going to go down to Oklahoma and come back with them, so I’m going to be very excited as we approach the Maine border.”
After a period of adjustment where the elephants will acclimate to their new home, their daily feeding and bathing schedule and human caretakers, Hope Elephants will open the doors to the public for educational presentations.
“Once we’re up and running, kids will be able to have this amazing educational experience that they can’t get anywhere else,” he said.