on the elephant trail

Posted by on Jun 27, 2013 in Children's Book Illustration, travels | 0 comments

Ever since I read about Hope Elephants last November in the Press Herald, I’ve wanted to see them. Who isn’t captivated by these grand yet gentle animals? We headed north yesterday through Wiscasset, where I can’t pass up a stop at Rock Paper Scissors. And what did I spy there?


We wound our way to the hub of Hope, the Hope General Store for a great lunch.


Found another hint that we were on the right trail.


We arrived for a pre-arranged visit, along with about 20 folks.


Dr. Jim Laurita first met the two Asian elephants, Rosie and Opal, at Carson & Bailey Circus in the 70’s. After chapters at the Bronx Zoo, and in Oregon and India, he settled into a veterinarian practice in nearby Camden, but never forgot about these two girls.


He jumped through countless hoops to bring them to Hope from their retirement quarters in Hugo, Oklahoma. During a lively and informative talk about their past, their habits, and their unique rehabilitation, he shared his passion for wildlife conservation.


Opal and Rosie are unrelated but from the same circus herd, and are the best of friends.


Asian elephants have 4 times the sense of smell as a bloodhound. Their ears are small and shaped like India. Since their arrival in October, they’ve enjoyed walking on earth, rather than concrete, the biggest factor in their improvement in health, as both suffer from joint issues. Dr. Jim treats Rosie’s nerve damage in her left shoulder with acupuncture and therapeutic ultrasound. The barn where they sleep at night has a sand-covered floor with a radiant heat system.


This past winter, Rosie made snowballs and threw them in her mouth! She likes to get into trouble and punched some holes in the barn walls. She pulled the caps off the metal poles and tossed them like Frisbees. But she has a tender stomach and isn’t allowed to have watermelon, like Opal.

A major mission of Hope Elephants is education. Over 5000 school children have visited already! One group of students worked on the educational displays in the entrance room in the barn. I love the hand-lettering and the cheeky options.


This scale diagram does the trick in a glance.


The elephants provide an educational opportunity to get out the wildlife conservation message. Some of the donations to Hope Elephants go to a world land trust, buying corridors of land to connect preserves, so elephants can rebuild their genetic strength.

Opal is 41 and Rosie is 43. They will now enjoy their much-deserved retirement with state-of-the-art treatment. We found out the oldest elephant is Lydia, at 72. She now lives in Florida, but a few years ago my daughter had a once-in-a-lifetime moment with her, just before her retirement from Wildlife Kingdom in York, Maine.


Connecting with an elephant surely leaves an impression for life. Dr. Laurita’s dedication to these girls is inspiring. I’ve got the seed of a picture book sprouting, stay tuned!



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