Veterinarian killed by elephant

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A Maine veterinarian died Sept. 9 after he fell in an elephant corral and an elephant stepped on him, police said.

Dr. James L. Laurita, 56, had co-founded Hope Elephants, an organization in Hope, Maine, that housed injured and aging elephants and has provided education on wildlife conservation. Information from the Knox County Sheriff’s Office indicates it appears an elephant stepped on Dr. Laurita by accident. Dr. Laurita was unresponsive when he was found in the corral the morning of Sept. 9, and his death has been declared accidental.

Members of the Hope Elephants board of directors published a statement that described Dr. Laurita as an inspirational educator who loved life and saw all creatures as “integral parts of the most majestic tapestry imaginable.” They said he had sold his veterinary practice in 2011 in Camden, Maine, to raise money to create Hope Elephants as well as lent money to the organization, deferred a portion of his salary, and bought equipment for the organization, and Hope Elephants owed him more than $300,000.

Hope Elephants also was returning its two elephants, Rosie and Opal, to a herd housed by the Endangered Ark Foundation in Oklahoma, which had leased the elephants to Hope.

The board said that Dr. Laurita “taught us the meaning of stewardship and was unequivocal in expressing his belief that our first responsibility was to ensure the continued well-being of Rosie and Opal.”

“To that end, at least for the present, we will be returning the girls to the well-established, elephant care facility from which they came to us.”

Information about Hope Elephants and about a fund created to support Dr. Laurita’s family is available at