A majority of the 15 people who attended an informational hearing about veterinarian Jim Laurita’s plan to bring a retired circus elephant to Hope were enthusiastic about the project.

One person questioned whether Maine was the appropriate place for an elephant.

Laurita organized the meeting after the April 19 planning board meeting where he presented pre-application plans to allow people to hear more about the project and ask questions. It was held at the Hope Fire Station and lasted about an hour.

The veterinarian, who works at Camden Hospital for Animals, plans to build a state-of-the-art facility to rehabilitate a 42-year-old Asian elephant, named Rosie. Elephants live between 60 to 70 years, Laurita said.

Rosie is currently with a circus in Oklahoma and has developed a nerve paralysis and arthritis problems in one of her legs. In addition, she doesn’t mix well with the other elephants and has been isolated from the rest of the herd.

“For a 42-year-old elephant, she has some serious arthritic problems,” Laurita said.

The plan is to bring the elephant to Maine, give her a nice facility, and perform high-end physical therapy, such as therapeutic ultrasounds, which deliver heat into the deep tissue to promote healing, and the use of a water treadmill for low-impact, high-resistance therapy, he said. She also will receive glucosamine chondroitin supplements.

There is no such water treadmill in existence and Laurita said he hopes to work with the University of Maine to see if students could help design and build a device.

Local physical therapist Deb Cook will work with Rosie to see if the therapy helps to improve her range of motion.

He plans to build a barn with radiant flooring heat and have it covered in sand, to ease the weight on her joints and hopefully to relieve some of her pain, he said.

When asked if Laurita has considered her mental health about being the only elephant, since elephants are considered social, herd animals, he said that the situation she is in now with her physical health is more important.

“We feel the benefits of medical treatment outweigh her social needs,” Laurita said.

He said if he was to bring another elephant to the facility in the future, he would be very selective. He plans to get her a companion animal, such as a goat or a dog.

Someone questioned whether there is a cold winter where she is now. Laurita said that they had quite a cold winter in Oklahoma and had below-zero temperatures. He said Asian elephants can adapt to varied climates.

“There is not a weather problem in North American zoos as long as they can get to some place warm,” he said.

Someone asked if elephants are allergic to any plants in Maine, and Laurita said Red maple and ferns can make them sick. Rosie will be eating three to four bales of hay and 10 to 15 pounds of grain per day.

Laurita also plans to hold educational seminars with schools to teach children about wildlife conservation.

Initially, Laurita said, he thought it would be nice to have children be able to touch Rosie during field trips, but he has since rethought that idea and said that will not be an option because elephants can catch diseases from humans. People will be able to see Rosie from about 15 feet.

Someone questioned if children would develop a passion for elephants if the animal is not in its correct environment and she is isolated from a herd. Laurita said the hope is to teach children about wildlife conservation issues and have them understand that these animals should not be in situations like Rosie is in. He said Flipper, the dolphin, started a similar movement in the marine community and led to advanced marine sciences.

She agreed the facility in Oklahoma is not the place for Rosie, but said there is an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee that is devoted to elephants.

Laurita said this elephant has serious medical needs and no other place in the country offers the kind of rehabilitation that he would give her.

The woman, who said she interned at the Tennessee facility, said they do offer therapy. She said she is thrilled elephants are a local topic, but she encouraged people at the meeting to look at other alternatives.

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