Opal, one of two elephants who lived at the Hope Elephants sanctuary founded by Jim Laurita in 2012, died in Hugo, Okla. on Jan. 10, following a serious injury to her front left leg.

Opal and her elephant companion at the Hope facility, Rosie, had been living at the Endangered Ark Foundation in Hugo since Sept. 2014. Opal was 48 years old.

A Jan. 19 statement by the Endangered Ark Foundation through their Facebook page reads:

"Despite intensive veterinarian and staff care, the injury to Opal’s leg did not improve and her rapid decline in quality of life moved us to make the only humane decision possible. The decision was very difficult, but we could not allow her to continue to suffer with no hope of recovery."

On Dec. 17, Endangered Ark reported on its Facebook page Opal had injured herself while playing in her sand pile. The injury had left the elephant with limited mobility, and she was under the supervisory care of an attending veterinarian. The updates on Opal's condition received an outpouring of well-wishes and prayers for her health on Facebook, many of which were from individuals who had met the elephants during the two years they were in Hope.

On Dec. 29, however, the prognosis for Opal looked grim. After thanking the public for their prayers and support, a statement on Endangered Ark's Facebook page read: “We are ensuring she is comfortable. However, her mobility is still limited."

No further updates on Opal's condition were made until the Jan. 19 statement announcing her passing.

"It is with heavy hearts that we at Endangered Ark Foundation inform you that our dearest Opal succumbed to her injury on the 10th of January, 2017….Her dear companion Rosie along with all of the elephants are feeling the loss of Opal. Regardless of what species, it is always difficult to lose a member of the family."

Opal was first brought to Endangered Ark at the age of 3, and had lived at the Oklahoma sanctuary until 2012 when she and Rosie were moved to the former Hope Elephants location on Hatchet Mountain Road in Hope. The elephants were returned to Oklahoma immediately following Laurita's death at the Hope Elephants facility Sept. 9, 2014.

Laurita had worked on and off for Carson & Barnes Circus, based in Hugo, Okla. while attending college in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Laurita and his brother Tom had a juggling act together in the circus and eventually Tom became the ringmaster and Jim the elephant handler. Opal and Rosie were two of the elephants of the herd of 26 that Laurita worked with at that time.

In 2011, the brothers formed Hope Elephants, a nonprofit with two purposes: to care for elephants that have medical needs by employing veterinary therapeutic treatments and to serve as an educational platform for the issues of wildlife conservation using the example of elephants.

Founded in 1993, the Endangered Ark Foundation is a private non-profit "retirement ranch" for elephants, dedicated to providing care to Asian elephants in North America such as Opal and Rosie, and providing education to the public. Many of the rehabilitated elephants were originally animal performers at nearby circuses like Carson & Barnes.

Phone and email messages left at Endangered Ark Foundation over the past month for further comment have not been returned.

Courier Publications reporter Louis Bettcher can be reached at 236-8511 or by email at lbettcher@villagesoup.com.