Hope Elephants Co-Founder’s Death Prompts Federal Complaint Over Safety

PETA Points Out That 'Free Contact' Between Elephants and Humans Is a Recognized Hazard

For Immediate Release:
September 18, 2014

David Perle 202-483-7382

Hope, Maine – Today, PETA sent a formal complaint to the Augusta Area Office of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) asking the agency to hold Hope Elephants accountable for the death of the facility’s co-founder Dr. James Laurita, who was crushed to death by an 8,000-pound Asian elephant while he was in the animal’s corral.

In its letter, PETA points out that federal law requires that workplaces be free from recognized hazards that are likely to cause death or serious physical harm—and that the “free-contact” elephant management style used by Hope Elephants, in which there are no barriers between humans and dangerous animals, violates that law. PETA—whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment”—asks OSHA to cite and penalize Hope Elephants and to ensure that the facility follows experts’ recommendation to keep a constant, secure barrier between elephants and humans (known as “protected contact”).

“Study after study has confirmed that the only way to keep workers and elephants safe is to keep a barrier between them, and Hope Elephants knew that,” says PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel Delcianna Winders. “PETA is calling on the authorities to hold Hope Elephants accountable for exposing Dr. James Laurita to the very real, and obviously deadly, danger of direct contact with captive elephants.”

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which accredits all the major zoos in the U.S., has mandated that elephant-care providers at all AZA facilities absolutely minimize the amount of time elephants and keepers share the same space because of serious occupational risks. True protected-contact programs have reported no deaths and only one injury. In contrast, direct contact with elephants has resulted in 17 human deaths and more than 135 injuries to humans in the U.S.

For more information, please visit PETA.org.

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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind