PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — The owners of an elephant sanctuary where a caretaker died after apparently being stepped on will not be cited by federal workplace safety regulators.
In a March 4 letter to Hope Elephants, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommended that workers not be in the same unrestricted space as elephants except in rare circumstances. The letter was provided Friday to The Associated Press.
Hope Elephants refuge founder James Laurita died in an enclosure in September. The death was ruled accidental.
OSHA issued a hazard alert after Laurita's death that OSHA spokesman Ted Fitzgerald said is a cautionary warning for all businesses that work with large animals. Laurita's death is "a tragic example of what can happen when employers fail to follow industry requirements and to take necessary steps to protect employees," said Maryann Medeiros, OSHA's area director for Maine.
The notice of hazard alert cites the Association of Zoos & Aquariums standard that institutions that care for elephants use equipment such as barriers and restraints to increase employee safety.
"The care and management of elephants and other wild animals can be a rewarding profession but not if it comes at the cost of a worker's life," Medeiros said.
Laurita's brother, co-founder Tom Laurita, said the now-closed refuge's future is uncertain. Tom Laurita said he has not seen OSHA's recommendation, but he was aware that the agency was working on it. He declined to comment on the recommendation or the hazard alert.
Two elephants that lived at the refuge were returned to their former home in Oklahoma after James Laurita's death. Tom Laurita said he has received reports that the elephants are thriving there.
"They are doing extremely well," he said. "That's important to us."
Hope Elephants was a nonprofit sanctuary located in Hope, Maine, a small town of 1,500 people located 90 miles northeast of Portland.