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Rosie the Elephant Needs Rescuing

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Photo credit: Rosie with Dr. Laurita at Endangered Ark in Oklahoma used with permission from Hope Elephants

The Controversy

On one side is Dr. Laurita and his non-profit organization Hope Elephants.  I have no doubt Dr. Laurita wants to help Rosie have a better life by bringing her to Maine.  He feels a bond with her from his circus days and has decided to retire from his small animal veterinary practice so he can devote himself full-time to Rosie and the rehab facility he has started building.

The other side: IDA and numerous other groups and individuals believe bringing Rosie to Maine is wrong for several reasons.  Safety (human and elephant), the extended winter weather in Maine and the land space (one acre) and barn space (1,200 square feet) is too small for this 8,000 pound animal.

IDA recommends Rosie be transferred to one of the two existing elephant sanctuaries in the U.S.: the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee (TES) and PAWS (Performing Animal Welfare Society) in California. These facilities have many acres of land in which elephants can roam freely, there are established elephant herds for Rosie to join and they employ the protected contact method of handling when caring for the elephants.

Catherine Doyle, Elephant Campaign Director with IDA, told me in a phone interview that IDA consulted with more than one veterinarian who has experience with elephants.  She said they all agree that the cold and extended winters in Maine will be detrimental for an elephant with arthritis like Rosie.

Free Contact Verses Protected Contact

AZA (Association of Zoos & Aquariums) identifies the difference between free contact and protected contact when working with elephants on page 27 of its AZA Standards for Elephant Management and Care:

a. Free Contact: The direct handling of an elephant when the keeper and elephant share the same unrestricted space. Neither the use of chains nor the posture of the elephant alters this definition.

b. Protected Contact: Handling of an elephant when the keeper and the elephant do not share the same unrestricted space. Typically in this system the keeper has contact with the elephant through a protective barrier of some type while the elephant is not spatially confined and is free to leave the work area at will. This includes confined contact, where the handling of an elephant through a protective barrier where the elephant is spatially confined, as in an Elephant Restraint Device (ERD).

Doyle is concerned that having Rosie in an open barn with no dividers is a serious safety issue for anyone who enters, and Hope Elephants is planning on including an educational component to their program.  This would include having school children visit Rosie.

She also contends that the 1,200 square foot barn is too small for one elephant.  And if they include another elephant and especially with an all open space design, it then becomes dangerous for both elephants who could potentially get into fights with one another in such a small enclosed space with nowhere to go.

Concerns Identified and Response

Doyle said Dr. Laurita “has good intentions, but lacks knowledge about proper conditions” for Rosie.  One of her main concerns is the extended winter weather in Maine, which will cause Rosie to have to spend more days inside the barn. She also believes that the one acre of land for Rosie to roam is far too little. A wild elephant can roam as much as 30 miles per day.  And she also feels a 1,200 square foot barn is too small for such a large animal.

Initially, Rosie will be the only elephant at Hope Elephants.  Elephants in the wild live in herds of as little as eight or as many as 100.  They are extremely social animals that need the companionship of other elephants for their mental health.

The Lauritas are planning on bringing one more handicapped elephant to Hope so Rosie is not all alone, but it’s unclear when that will happen.  McAnaney told me that the building has already begun in Hope and they expect completion in mid-October with Rosie’s arrival by the end of that month.

Regarding the weather issue, McAnaney and the Lauritas believe their location should not be a problem, stating the weather in coastal Maine — where Hope is located — is moderate and not nearly as severe as in the northern inland section of the state.  They also say the barn they are in the process of building will have radiant heat and sand flooring, so Rosie will not be standing on cement, which is difficult for arthritics.  McAnaney also told me they are planning on having a large mound of sand to make it easier for Rosie to lie down and get up.  Doyle agrees this is a good idea for Rosie.

Other Animal Advocates Speak Out

IDA is not the only animal advocacy group that opposes bringing Rosie to Hope Elephants. Numerous experts have sent letters to the Hope Elephants planning board voicing their opposition to Dr. Laurita’s plan.  They include:

  • Joyce H. Poole, PhD, Director,
  • Patty Finch, Executive Director, GFAS
  • John Freeze, retired Animal Husbandry Supervisor for African Elephants at North Carolina Zoo
  • Tim Harrison, Director, Outreach for Animals
  • Scott Blais, Director of Operations/co-founder, Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary

Indeed, the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) has said that it would not accredit the facility, based on animal welfare and human safety issues.  In Patty Finch’s letter she states, “We have examined the site plan and the site plan review application submitted by Dr. Laurita. I can tell you with certainty that if these plans were carried out, GFAS would not be able to accredit the facility.”

In spite of these letters, the Hope Planning Board approved Dr. Laurita’s plan for Hope Elephants.  Construction began about two weeks ago.

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8:50AM PST on Nov 20, 2012

As someone that suffers from severe chronic pain that it horribly effected by weather and temperature I can not help but think that living in Maine is NOT in Rosie's best interest. It is very possible that this Dr. might be the best thing for Rosie as far as giving her the love that she so deserves after having such a difficult life beginning with being taken out of the wild and away from her mother at such a young age then raised in captivity, trained and preforming for SO many years. It is about time that someone actually cared for HER and gave her a life of love and happiness. Don't we all deserve that really?? I just know that for me personally, warmer climates are much easier on me and my severe pain and I just can't imagine it being any different for our Rosie.

8:07PM PDT on Oct 6, 2012

Rosie would be better off with warmer weather for her arthritis. The sanctuary in Tennessee or even California would give her a chance to be with other elephants and learn to depend on others like herself, not just people. Maine is a brutal place in winter; lovely but brutal, and not a place for an elephant. There should be no elephants in this area because of the cold.

1:46PM PDT on Aug 13, 2012


11:35AM PDT on Aug 12, 2012

I signed several times for Rosie but nothing happens till now it seems !


8:32AM PDT on Aug 6, 2012

Send Rosie where she will be loved and well taken care of. I will never attend a circus again.

3:29PM PST on Jan 28, 2012

I try very hard not to support events that exploit animals, if we all boycotted any circus where animals were part of the show, this often barbaric explotation of living creatures would stop. I visited an elephant sanctuary in India, yes the elephants are 'on-display' but the sanctuary has to raise funds some how and the animals are well looked after. All visitors were invited to buy and feed fruit to the elephants (and oh boy they all enjoyed the watermelon slices and bananas that we fed them, despite their huge size they are really gentle when they take food). Then we were asked if we'd like to give them a bath, this was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. There were several people washing the elephant, we were given coconut husks to scrub her with, it was clear, as she lay in the stream, that she was really enjoying all the attention. I washed her face, very gently scrubbing her around her trunk and gently washing over her eyes, her eye lashes were like broom bristles. She was making a very gentle noise that I can only liken to purring. What a wonderful creature but I would still have prefered for her to have been in the wild where she, and the rest of her kind, belong.

1:14PM PST on Jan 28, 2012

yes rossie need love as my beloved tarra. i had been sponsored tarra for 4 years, also belle the dog, but she died. rossie need too much love.

8:30PM PDT on Nov 5, 2011

Like all animals who are getting along in years, Rosie needs whatever is best for her, not what is best for others. She needs her dignity and to feel loved and wanted.

3:08PM PDT on Nov 4, 2011

Rosie is like Tarra. She needs loves, and to be well taken care of in a climate that is good for her.

8:23AM PDT on Nov 4, 2011

Rosie needs to be where she is loved , wanted, cared for and her pain to be eased as soon as possible. Why prolong her pain ,when the problem CAN be if not solved then eased.She needs to be protected, and have runs, and enclosed freedon befor she gets too old to have any enjoyment.

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