A caring steward of Rosie and Opal, and of all animals

Hope Elephants founder Jim Laurita dies

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 10:30am

    HOPE — The community of Hope has been struck with another tragedy this week: Dr. James Laurita, much-loved veterinarian and steward of Rosie and Opal, his elephants, died this morning.

    From the Knox County Sheriff’s Office: “The Knox County Sheriff's Office received a call at 7:12 this morning to respond to 43 Hatchet Mountain Road in Hope for an unresponsive male in the barn. Prior to the deputies arrival, paramedics from North East Mobile Health Services arrived. It was discovered that Dr. James Laurita, 56, of Hope was deceased. Dr. Laurita was the Founder of Hope Elephants. For an unknown reason, while routinely tending to the elephants, Dr. Laurita had fallen in the corral and struck his head on the cement floor. Dr. Laurita's cause of death will be determined by an autopsy scheduled later.”

    At 3:32 p.m. this afternoon, Sept. 9, the Sheriff’s Office issued another release: “The Knox County Sheriff's Office has been notified by the State's Medical Examiner's Office and an autopsy has been completed on Dr. Laurita.  This office was notified that Dr. Flomenbaum, Chief Medical Examiner, has determined the cause to be asphyxiation.  The investigation shows that the injuries are consistent while Dr. Laurita was on the ground from a fall that one of the elephants accidentally stepped on Dr. Laurita causing internal injuries with multiple fractures and ultimately causing asphyxia. Dr. Flomenbaum has declared this an accidental death.”


    A father, husband, brother, friend, animal protector, accomplished and caring veterinarian, and a respected member of the community, Jim Laurita founded Hope Elephants in 2011 with his brother, Tom. 

    Jim 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 2012, he brought Rosie and Opal to Hope from Oklahoma, where they had been retired from work at the circus and were kept at the circus’s winter quarters. 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.

    Hope Elephants also opened its doors to the public for educational presentations, to the delight of students and the general public, and schools have been incorporating Jim and the elephants into the curriculum.

    Jim has also been a veterinarian with Camden Hospital for Animals in Camden for decades, a gentle doctor to so many pets, and an empathetic adviser to humans caring for their animals.

    The community of Hope is small, but its heart is big. The loss of Jim, and late last week of Sarah Doubleday, a vibrant young woman, has left Hope and the larger Midcoast, in sorrow. 

    Jim Laurita attended the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and earned his zoology degree in 1981. After several years working and performing in the circus, Jim continued his education at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. He completed his doctorate of veterinary medicine in 1989. Jim moved to the Midcoast in 1990. As a student, he participated in research projects at the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Alaska and animal behavior studies with elephants in India.

    Jim and his wife, Carrie, have two boys, Henry and Louis.

    Editorial Director Lynda Clancy can be reached at lyndaclancy@penbaypilot.com; 207-706-6657.