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:
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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