Much like other retirees on the coast of Maine, Rosie and Opal who held demanding jobs for more than 40 years, spend their retirement days relaxing on their farm, participating in exercise classes and volunteering with a nonprofit organization.
But unlike most other residents “from away” who are enjoying the coastal Maine lifestyle, Rosie and Opal are Asian elephants recently retired from hectic circus careers to live out their lives in the loving care of Hope Elephants, an elephant habitat near Camden, Maine.
Last year, Dr. James Laurita (Jim), a Cornell-educated veterinarian, gave up his practice in Camden to fulfill a dream of opening a medical rehabilitation center for injured and aging circus elephants. Hope Elephants is a state-of-the-art medical and educational facility located about seven miles from downtown Camden, and 25 minutes from Victorian by the Sea B&B, in the town of Hope. It is also a quirky and fascinating new attraction in the area which allows visitors to get a close-up view of this magnificent species.
With the help of Rosie and Opal, Jim and his enthusiastic staff educate visitors about the species, their medical problems and treatment plans as well as the crisis in the preservation of their habitat and future viability.
Each day Jim takes the girls, who are suffering from nerve damage, arthritis and joint deterioration, through their physical therapy regimen while answering questions from visitors. Perhaps even more appealing than the majesty of these animals is the love and compassion that he shows for them. And it is here that the story gets interesting!
It seems that nearly 40 years ago, Jim and his brother, Tom, who later earned degrees from Brown, Yale and the Russian Peoples’ Friendship University in Moscow, did what many young men only dreamt about — they ran away and joined the circus. In addition to their juggling act, the brothers worked with the elephants setting up and taking down the circus tents. It was while working together in the circus that the seeds of Hope Elephants germinated.
As well as the daily educational tours, Hope Elephants has developed a free Resource Guide which is being used in schools and may be downloaded from their website.
There is no entrance fee, but tax-deductible donations which help with the upkeep of the facility as well as provide for conservation efforts, are accepted. For more information and reservations, visit their website.