(Reuters) - The founder of a Maine sanctuary for old and injured elephants was trampled to death by one of the elephants under his care, the company, Hope Elephants, and local media said on Tuesday.
Jim Laurita, 56, was found dead inside the animals' enclosure at his Hope Elephant facility in Hope, Maine, on Tuesday, the Bangor Daily News reported.
The Maine medical examiner's office said Laurita died of asphyxiation after his chest was crushed and that his death was accidental, the Daily News said.
The Knox County Sheriff's Office said Laurita's injuries were consistent with being stepped on by one of the four-ton animals, the Daily News reported.
The company confirmed the death in a statement on their website on Tuesday.
"Hope Elephants is deeply saddened by the loss of our founder, Dr. Jim Laurita. Jim's passion for all animals, but especially elephants, was boundless," the statement said.
Hope Elephants did not immediately respond to requests for additional detail on Laurita's death.
Laurita sold his private veterinary practice in 2011 to create the organization and took in two elderly and disabled performing elephants, Rosie and Opal, according to the company's website.
(Reporting by Curtis Skinner; Editing by Paul Tait)