Last Tuesday I spent the day at the Hope Elephant Sanctuary in Hope Maine. I met several hard-working volunteers, Dr. Jim Laurita and two 7,500 pound Asian elephants named Rosie and Opal. I was the “playwright in residence” collecting stories and information for the Children’s Museum & Theatre of Maine’s upcoming play The Road to Hope: An Elephant’s Story.
Rosie and Opal retired from the circus in 2012. Rosie’s birthplace is on the other side of the world, in Thailand. She was orphaned by her mother and as an infant was shipped off to an American circus. She joined the Big Top just about the same time as Dr. Jim Laurita and his brother Tom, in the mid 1970s. Jim and Tom traveled town to town with their juggling act. When Jim wasn’t throwing things into the air he was taking care of the elephants. Jim and Rosie developed a special connection when Rosie was young. As Jim went to Cornell to study veterinary medicine and to India to study Asian elephants in the wild, he never forgot Rosie.
Rosie was able to form strong bonds and connections with humans but not with other elephants. She looked different and she didn’t speak the elephant language or know the social cues. In a struggle for leadership and dominance, another elephant attacked Rosie and pushed her into a circus truck. This incident caused irreparable damage to Rosie’s shoulder and scapula. After working all those years in the circus, she also developed nerve damage in her trunk and arthritis in her leg.
Dr. Jim formed Hope Elephants in the fall of 2012, “because he always wanted to do something nice for those girls”—Rosie in particular. At Hope Elephants the girls have healthy diets; fresh carrots and Purina elephant chow. They receive exercise and mental stimulation; and most importantly they found true elephant friendship and support. Jim carefully chose Opal to come to Hope to be Rosie’s companion. Rosie is the matriarch of their two elephant herd and now it appears that the two girls are the best of friends.
The bond between the two elephants is remarkable and the crowning achievement at Hope. Like a true mentor or role model, Jim recognized that Rosie needed more than diet and exercise to live a comfortable fulfilling life. As a writer, teacher and director, I am struck and inspired by this story of kindness and empathy. I think young people will relate to Rosie’s story on a level that crosses species and culture. Bullying is an epidemic in our schools today, but can be found anywhere, in school yards, circus tents or in the wild. Rosie’s story is that of perseverance, persistence of spirit, and will offer us all hope that true friendship does exist.
Want to learn more about the Hope Elephant Sanctuary? Visit their website: www.hopeelephants.org