By Russell Hulstine
HUGO, Oklahoma - Rosie and Opal, retired circus elephants on loan to an elephant preserve in Maine, returned to their home in Hugo this week after an accident resulting in the death of the preserve's founder.
Dr. Jim Laurita, the founder and director of Hope Elephants, died on September 10, 2014.
Laurita was performing his usual morning routine with the elephants when he fell in the corral, hitting his head on the cement floor, according to the Knox County Sheriff's Department. The department said he had additional injuries consistent with being stepped on by one of the elephants. The Maine medical examiner ruled his death accidental from asphyxiation.
The foundation said the news of Dr. Laurita's passing was a shock for all involved. Laurita was a passionate and kind man who loved “the girls” Rosie and Opal, and dedicated his life to wildlife conservation, according to a news release.
Rosie and Opal arrived at the Endangered Ark Foundation in Hugo on Monday, September 15, 2014. After being assessed by their veterinarian, the EAF reports both elephants are doing well.
The foundation said the two elephants were not only greeted with a healthy snack of fruits and vegetables donated by the Walmart in Hugo, but also by beloved family members in the herd.
The board of Endangered Ark Foundation stated, “the loss of Jim will weigh heavily on all our hearts, but we will honor his memory by taking excellent care of ‘the girls', continuing the innovative treatments he was developing for their particular medical needs and by utilizing his format in promoting preservation, education and wildlife conservation to keep all aware of the endangered Asian elephants."