Of all the things we think of when we say Maine, one of the last things would be Asian elephants, right? That changed as of October, 2012 when two of the big mammals took up permanent residency in Hope, Maine, about 1-1/2 hours west and south from SeaCat’s Rest. Veterinarian and former circus elephant trainer Dr. Jim Laurita worked with Rosie and Opal back in the 70′s and decided he wanted to provide for them a comfortable Maine retirement. He raised $100,000, built a huge, 3,120-square-foot heated barn and purchased the necessary veterinary equipment for their care. There were a few negative opinions expressed from an animal rights group, but for the most part the community was supportive. Several fundraisers have already happened and promise to continue to provide for their feeding and upkeep. Check out the Hope Elephants facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/hopeelephants.
Opal and Rosie’s new home is not a tourist attraction, so if you want to see them or their human caregivers you have to arrange it through the facebook page. They are always ready to accept donations to their non-profit. Future plans do include an education center and a viewing deck, and Dr. Laurita has already allowed school groups to see the elephants. The primary objective is to provide for the elephants and increase awareness of older elephant’s needs in their retirement years. Rosie and Opal are now in their 40′s and may live to 80, so Maine will have the big hungry mammals for a while.
The criticism from In Defense of Animals claimed the new barn and large (1+ acre) paddock was unsafe and inhumane and our climate was inappropriate. Dr. Laurita says elephants encounter snow in their native habitat on occasion and certainly in zoos and some like it, some don’t. Both animals have ongoing health issues and Hope Elephants is equipped to address them. Opal has foot and leg problems while Rosie suffered nerve damage to her shoulder. There are plans for an underwater treadmill. To me, it doesn’t sound like these animals are suffering from being in Maine, and from the photos they seem to enjoy it. Some day I hope to see for myself. Pines, lupines, apple trees….and elephants!