HOPE — The Hope Elephants board of directors announced late Wednesday afternoon, Sept. 10, that Rosie and Opal will return to Oklahoma to the Endangered Ark Foundation, where they had lived before coming to Maine two years ago. The board has also established a Jim Laurita Fund.
“The move back there is not necessarily a permanent move,” said Hope Elephants spokesman Andrew Stewart, this evening. “In the interim, we will make plans for the future and how best to move forward.”
Statement from Tom Laurita, co-founder of Hope Elephants
Jim was my brother and the best person I have ever known. He believed that the only life worth living is one of passion and conviction, kindness and honesty, and he completely lived out his beliefs. He was everyone's favorite vet, a marvelous husband, father, son, brother, friend. He was the heart and soul of Hope Elephants and he threw his whole life into caring for Rosie and Opal. He loved them and they loved him. This was obvious to anyone who visited our facility.
I will never forget how Rosie reacted to thunder. It scared her and she ran over to Jim and hugged him with her trunk like a child. His passing leaves hundreds of people in shock and grief. Thousands of people have been inspired to love elephants and care about their preservation through his tireless work.
Many people have asked me how this accident happened. Nobody will ever know for sure. Here is what I know. Jim fell and hit his head on the concrete walkway. We don't know whether this occurred because his hip gave out (he needed a hip replacement), whether he had a cardiac event, or whether he fell for some other reason. He was incapacitated and could not get up. From what I know and believe, Rosie was trying to help him get up using her leg and injured trunk. It is instinctual for elephants to help a herd member who cannot get up by using their trunk and legs. Rosie weighs over 7,500 pounds so her attempts to help Jim, as he had helped her so faithfully, may have resulted in Jim's death. The Maine state medical examiner's office said, "The elephant was not aggressive in any way. It was clearly an accident."
It was a tragedy, too.
As we all work through our sadness, the Hope Elephants family and community is determined to do what Jim would certainly have wanted us to do; to take care of those without a voice and help stop the extinction of elephants. I believe that Jim gave his life for this cause.
Hope Elephants is a nonprofit whose board of directors oversees creating a home for the two elephants that have been under the nurturing care of Jim Laurita. He died Sept. 9 following a tragic accident at the facility.
On Sept. 10, the board released a statement about Jim’s passing and his legacy, and firmly committed to the future of the organization.
“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 said.
The board said: “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.”
Jim’s brother, Tom, also a released a statement (see box at left).
Since Jim died, there has been an outpouring of grief across Maine, even the world, as he was recognized for his efforts in rehabilitating and caring for elephants.
The Endangered Ark Foundation (on Facebook: facebook.com/EndangeredArkFoundation) is in Hugo, Okla., and its mission is: “to preserve the extremely endangered Asian elephant by providing an intense passion and massive care needed to save and love such a bigger than life spirit. While also, expanding the public education and magnifying a child eye of the conservation of the endangered Asian Elephant.”
The foundation has existed since 1993. The foundation owns Rosie and Opal, both retired circus elephants. Jim Laurita 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.
In 2011, he and his brother, Tom, worked hard to bring Rosie, and then Opal, to Maine. Rosie and Opal both sustained past injuries and suffer from nerve damage. With the community’s help with fundraising, the Lauritas built a heated barn for the elephants, where they have been receiving advanced physical therapy to ease their suffering.
Stewart said no date has been set for their return to Oklahoma. Hope Elephants remains closed to the public for the time being, as Jim Laurita’s family and friends cope with the shock of losing him.
Jim Laurita died early in the morning Sept. 9 following a fall in the corral.
On Sept. 11, Tom Laurita updated statements that were sent the previous day.
From Tom Laurita and Hope Elephants: What is next for Rosie and Opal?
Even in the midst of our intense grieving we are overwhelmed at the outpouring of love and sympathy from all around the world. We honestly did not know the extent to which so many were touched at their core by what Dr. Jim created, and how many of you have come to care for Rosie and Opal. We thank you all deeply.
Why are Rosie and Opal going back to Oklahoma?
Dr. Jim devoted all his life energy over the past 2 years to Hope Elephants, to caring for Rosie and Opal and educating the thousands of children and adults who are connected to them. Our plan from the outset was that, as we became financially and organizationally stable, we would invite other qualified handlers and veterinarians to come to Hope and help Jim. But Jim always told us that if anything happened to him before we could do that, the elephants needed to go back to their herd in Oklahoma. We just never believed this would come to pass. Here are the facts:
The Endangered Ark Foundation in Oklahoma owns Rosie and Opal. Hope Elephants is leasing them and our lease specifies that if they need to leave Hope they must be returned to their owners.
The Endangered Ark Foundation is not a circus. Rosie and Opal are not going back to the circus. They are and will remain retired. They will be in a very good facility with the herd of 'sisters' they have known for decades. Jim spoke very highly of the level of veterinary and other care the elephants receive at Endangered Ark.
The people who run the Endangered Ark are heartbroken too. We have already agreed that Rosie and Opal will continue to receive the special care and therapies that Jim pioneered. We are discussing how these therapies can be extended to other elephants in the herd in Oklahoma.
With Jim's passing, Hope Elephants does not have a full-time qualified handler and veterinarian to take care of Rosie and Opal. Our permits to keep the elephants are issued to Jim as the responsible person; so without him we cannot keep the girls in Hope for now.
Will Rosie and Opal come back to Hope?
Thousands of people have volunteered and contributed time and money to create Hope Elephants. This was Jim's lifelong dream, and it became a reality through the passion and love of so many of you. Those of us who are left cannot let this dream die. The people who are responsible to keep Jim's legacy alive are determined to do that. Please give us some time to mourn and to regroup. That is what we are thinking about night and day. We are looking for ways to continue our work, and to bring Rosie and Opal back if we can do that.
The Hope Elephants mission is to care for elephants, to educate people about them, and to save them from extinction. Please remember that in the entire USA there are several hundred elephants. Poachers kill several hundred elephants every week for their ivory. Jim did not care about himself, he cared about the people he loved and the animals he loved. Hope Elephants will keep that love alive. Thank you.
Statement from the Hope Elephants Board of Directors
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.
Or make donation checks out to:
Hope Elephants – Jim Laurita Fund
P.O Box 2025
Hope, ME 04847
Editorial Director Lynda Clancy can be reached at email@example.com; 207-706-6657