Elephants in Moose Country…
Wild moose beware – there’s actually a creature larger than you living in coastal Maine. I’d like to see a moose come face-to-face with Asian elephants Opal and Rosie, the newest Vacationland residents. And while they may be enjoying their retirement, these ladies are no snowbirds.
I thought I had a grasp on how huge elephants are. That is, until I stepped into the barn on Hatchet Mountain Road in Hope, Maine and came face to face with Opal and Rosie. For every visitor to Hope Elephants on that morning in January, the reaction was the same – a release of breath somewhere between a gasp and a sigh and bug eyes that a grasshopper would envy. Once we recovered the power of speech, we probably said something to the effect of OhmyGod/Holy cow. You know that elephants are the largest land mammal, but you can’t really comprehend their sheer majesty until you meet Opal and Rosie, who were happily munching hay and gently rocking back and forth, something that Executive Director Dr. Jim Laurita told us they did to keep blood circulating to their feet (and also in anticipation of treats).
Anyone who has spent time in a stable would have immediately recognized the smell of dust and hay, but there was also something uniquely elephant-y. Though it had snowed that morning, it was about 50 degrees in the barn thanks to the radiant heating below the sand floor of the elephant enclosure. I was visiting the facility with my 92 year old grandmother, a lifelong elephant lover. The visit was a late Christmas present for her and a bit of a production, as I had to drive from my home in Belgrade to pick her up at her nursing home in Madison, and then head toward Hope (a town on the coast of Maine near Camden).
Laurita gave us visitors a roughly 45-minute presentation. He started by making the disclaimer that Rosie and Opal are at the facility enjoying a peaceful retirement and treatment for their various injuries, so they will not perform or give people rides. I was a little shocked that visitors to the facility might actually ask for an elephant ride. He explained the history of Hope Elephants – how he and his brother, Tom, had the idea to create the sanctuary, his background as a professional elephant trainer and veterinarian, what it was like for him and his son to transport the elephants from Oklahoma to Maine, what the elephants’ day-to-day care entails, and basic elephant facts (did you know they can communicate at a frequency below the level of human hearing called ‘infrasound?’) before answering questions. He also demonstrated some of the physical therapy exercises that Rosie does to strengthen her trunk, which has nerve damage.
The group – which consisted of me and my grandmother, a grandfather, his daughter and her son, a retired couple, and several women who were connected to the local school – was riveted the entire time. I think we could have watched them munch hay and sway and curl their trunks around each other for hours. It was just that fascinating. Rosie has partial trunk paralysis, so she had to get her trunk swinging, build up some momentum, and then kind of sling the hay up into her mouth. Opal thought she was pretty tricky, storing her hay on Rosie’s back where Rosie couldn’t reach it. Although Jim and Tom probably have no trouble telling them apart, I could only distinguish the two because Opal has the most striking amber-colored eyes.
By the end of the presentation, donation checks were practically writing themselves, we were considering volunteering to shovel manure just for the chance to come back, and we were on our way home to become card-carrying members of the World Wildlife Fund to protect wild elephants. Grandma’s only regret (she’s STILL a little bitter about it) is that we were not – for legal and safety and regulatory reasons – allowed to touch the elephants. Grandma thought that the rule shouldn’t apply to her. Something about how she wouldn’t tell anyone…
If you go: The facility is disabled-accessible, you’re allowed to take pictures, and if you have any extra carrots, apples or melons kicking around, you’re welcome to bring them for Rosie and Opal. The visit is free, but they ask for a donation of $15 for adults, $10 for children under 12, or $25 for a family to help cover the costs of caring for the elephants and providing educational programming. Hope Elephants is open visits are by appointment only, as tours are held at specific times and group sizes are limited. Call 207-619-4801 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org to make reservations. You can also see what the ‘ladies’ are up to on www.facebook.com/hopeelephants.
Our guest post today is from Sara Lozefski, John Clark’s daughter.