Marcia and I just met Hope’s latest residents, two Asian elephants now residing in the first-of-it’s-kind elephant rehabilitation facility in the USA, pioneered by our own dedicated veterinarian, Jim Laurita. The animals arrived unannounced under the cloak of darkness, 5 weeks ago, successfully eluding PETA’s minions.
From the Hope Elephants website : “Rosie and Opal , a pair of aging and injured retired circus elephants, receive state-of-the-art physical therapy and nutritional support in a purpose-built habitat dedicated to their needs. School children and others of all ages experience elephants in a way unavailable anywhere else in the country. The goal of Hope Elephants’ educational program is to inspire visitors to act upon their experience and find their own path to participate in wildlife conservation.”
I was totally unprepared for the intense emotional experience of encountering these two fellow sentient beings. Entering the side door of the barn, you are welcomed into a long narrow room that has educational materials and things like t-shirts, and wrist bands for sale. No elephants yet. At this point, Jim came in from outside and welcomed us though the opened the door to the interior of the barn.
As soon as I saw them, I felt something huge in the room, and it wasn’t just their size. The two 7,000 plus pound mammals slowly turned as they advanced forward to the edge of the enclosure to look back at us.
I was overwhelmed with emotion. Rosie’s 40 year old eyes looked tired, but Opal’s brownish green eyes were communicating strongly as she began to scrape the sandy floor with a stick that she held in her trunk.
I learned that the concrete pad and sandy pits in the floor were both warm with radiant heat. Both elephants were formerly housed in a barn in Oklahoma, with a cold concrete floor- where they were restrained each evening before falling asleep. Their life expectancy is a bit less than ours, some reaching 50 to 60 years
Jim first met Rosie in 1977 when she was an orphaned baby who was bottle fed. He and his brother, Tom, were working in the circus at that time. He used to tell us in the vet office that he hoped to work again with elephants again when he retired from running the Camden Hospital for Animals, and he’s done it. He said that when he went down to Oklahoma to first see Rosie last year, she recognized him, even after decades apart.
He told us, “Me and my brother wanted to do something nice for these particular elephants”.
Visits to the facility are by schedule only. You can’t just walk in. Access the website, and then either use the phone number or send an email inquiry to arrange one of the two daily public visits times, which are 11:30 AM or 3:30 PM, all days except Thursday. Admission is free, but a suggested donation is noted. The maximum group visit is 10, but our session had only one other couple, who drove a three hour round trip to see.
There is ample material to review on the website. There is also a Facebook page and they distribute an e-newsletter. Do go, and I hope that you too will have a genuine encounter with two fellow inhabiants of this mysterious earth.