Comedian Lily Tomlin asks LePage to stop Hope elephant project

By Heather Steeves, BDN Staff
Posted Aug. 23, 2011, at 8:27 p.m.

HOPE, Maine — A comedian recently wrote Gov. Paul LePage asking him to crush a man’s plan to bring an elephant to Hope.

Lily Tomlin, who works with the nonprofit In Defense of Animals as an elephant advocate, told LePage that it would be cruel to keep the Asian elephant in a small pen in a cold-climate area by herself.

“Though the idea of helping Rosie [the elephant] is commendable, she will suffer in Maine,” Tomlin wrote. “I wholeheartedly agree that Rosie deserves a better home. But the best course of action is to send her to an established sanctuary, where she would receive specialized care from a staff of highly trained caretakers and would live with other elephants in a spacious, natural-habitat situated in a far more moderate climate.”

So far, the town of Hope has given Jim Laurita permits to keep Rosie the elephant and to build her a barn and pen. He also needs state and federal approval, which both require that he builds the barn first. He’s installing fence posts this week, Laurita said Tuesday.

Adrienne Bennett, a spokeswoman for the governor, on Tuesday said she was unsure if the office had received Tomlin’s letter, but would review the matter and “look into appropriate action if any needs to be taken.”

Laurita is a veterinarian in Hope who worked with Rosie when he was an elephant handler with the Carson and Barnes C ircus in the late 1970s. That circus, based in Oklahoma, has given the vet permission to take Rosie from her circus herd of 27 elephants so that Laurita can give her special medical care.

Rosie suffers from arthritis. Laurita wants to use her as a sort of experiment in elephant physical therapy. He then plans to share any tactics that work with the circus to help trainers with any future bouts of arthritis in the herd.

In his opinion, Tomlin should take a closer look at his plan; it’s probably something she’d support, he said.

“She won’t be a roadside attraction. We are bringing her here to meet her medical needs. She’ll have more than an hour a day of physical therapy. We’ll measure what we’re doing with her,” he said. “Are these [therapeutic tactics] going to be successful in elephants? We think so.”

The veterinarian plans to try therapeutic ultrasound, which will deliver heat deep into her leg tissues, acupuncture and maybe hydrotherapy to heal the 42-year-old elephant.

Laurita recently formed a nonprofit Hope Elephants to help raise funds for Rosie’s care.

As for Tomlin’s other accusations about being lonely, Laurita said his plan is to have two elephants in the 52-foot-by-60-foot barn and one-acre pen he plans to build this autumn. He’s just looking for the right companion.

“Elephants are very complex social animals. We’re going to start with her, but we’re actively looking for other elephants. But we really want to make sure we improve their lot in life,” Laurita said. “She is not going to be secluded.”

As for the cold, there are already northern zoos with elephants in Cleveland, Ohio, and in Syracuse, N.Y., Laurita said. Also, Rosie’s barn will be heated.

“We’re hoping to finish up [construction of the barn] by the fall to bring her. There’s a lot of local enthusiasm,” he said. “If Lily Tomlin and others took the time to look at what our project is, they would find this is something they would probably support.”

For more information about the Hope Elephants project, visit http://hopeelephants.org.

http://bangordailynews.com/2011/08/23/news/midcoast/comedian-lily-tomlin-gets-serious-about-preventing-hope-elephant-project/ printed on July 11, 2014