Veterinarian Jim Laurita’s passion for elephants began when he worked on and off for the Carson and Barnes Circus during his college years in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Laurita, who has worked at the Camden Hospital for Animals since 1990, wants to further his passion for elephants and elephant conservation by building a facility at his Hope home to rehabilitate an injured elephant from that same circus he worked at so many years ago. Part of the project also includes an educational component to hopefully foster in local children that same inspiration he had.

In 1977, Laurita’s brother Tom was the ringmaster for the five-ring Carson and Barnes Circus. Laurita said he joined the circus and he and his brother had a juggling act together.

“However, you have to do something the other 18 hours a day,” Laurita joked.

He said he picked up a shovel and began working in the elephant area and became more interested in the animals. Eventually he worked his way up to be the handler for 26 elephants, including Rosie, the 42-year-old Asian elephant that may spend the rest of her years living in Hope.

Laurita worked on and off at the circus until 1981. In the same year, he received a bachelor’s degree in zoology from the University of Massachusetts.

For veterinarian school, it is preferred that students have some kind of experience, he said. While studying for the Medical College Admissions Test, Laurita, who is originally from a small town in upstate New York called Schroon Lake, worked as an assistant elephant trainer for three Asian elephants at the Bronx Zoo. There he gave rides on the elephants and also ran educational programs.

After that, in 1983, Laurita was the head elephant trainer at the Wildlife Safari in Winston, Ore. He managed all aspects of the care and training for seven African elephants. He also led an educational show, similar to what he wants to do at the Hope facility. In 1984, he spent two or three months working with the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Alaska, where he served as a team leader for the Dall’s Porpoise Research Project.

In 1985, Laurita began veterinary school at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and received his doctor of veterinary medicine degree in 1989.

For an independent study during veterinary school, Laurita went to southern India and studied captive elephants in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, India. He studied all aspects of elephant management as practiced in the teak forest.

After school, Laurita came to Midcoast Maine and did not know how long he would stay, but met his wife, who is local, and ended up staying. He has worked (and was previously part owner) at the Camden Hospital for Animals since 1990.

It was there he began kicking around the idea of working with elephants again. If all goes well with the project, the plan is to perform high-end physical therapy to injured elephants. The intensive therapy Laurita is planning is not currently done on elephants, he said. He plans to perform physical therapy similar to that done with race horses. The plan for Rosie is to slow the arthritic process in her good leg and Hope Elephants, the nonprofit he and his brother have formed, is actively seeking another elephant.

In addition to the rehabilitation, Laurita plans to provide education for local schools. He is currently working with the Wood Chop School in Lincolnville to develop a program about elephants, conservation and to inform about the work he is performing on the elephant.

Laurita said 100 elephants a day die in the wild in part for their ivory and also because of habitat loss.

“Our grandkids may not see elephants,” he said.

Laurita is hoping to inform locals about the problems facing elephants and also to inspire local children.

On July 5, Hope Elephants gained conditional approval from the Hope Planning Board to build a 3,120-square-foot metal building with cedar shingle siding at Laurita’s home at 43 Hatchet Mountain Road, across from Hatchet Mountain Publick House. The condition was that Laurita must meet with the fire chief to be sure that the project was not an undue burden on town services. The project must also receive state and federal permits once the facility is built. At the July 26 meeting, the planning board unanimously supported a memo from Hope Fire Chief Clarence Keller stating he has reviewed the Hope Elephants Emergency Operations Plan and does not see the project will place any additional burden on town services.

Laurita said he intends to break ground next week and would like to move Rosie to Hope this fall.

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