Elephant sanctuary founder dies after one of his animals treads on him

James Laurita founded Hope Elephants in Maine, USA

Elephant sanctuary founder James Laurita dies after one of his animals treads on him James Laurita

A vet and co-founder of Hope Elephants, which cares for retired circus elephants, was killed when one of the animals stepped on him, police have said in ruling his death an accident.

James Laurita opened the non-profit facility with his brother in 2011 in the US state of Maine.

Hope Elephants' board said it was "deeply saddened" by the loss.

"Jim's passion for all animals, but especially elephants, was boundless," it says, in a statement on its website, in which it or privacy for his family.

On Tuesday, Maine officials found Laurita unresponsive at the facility.

The 56-year-old had apparently fallen and struck his head on a concrete floor before an elephant stepped on his chest, reports the BBC.

"The elephant was not aggressive in any way. It was clearly an accident," said Mark Belserene, of the Maine state medical examiner's office.

The Mirror reports that Laurita's official cause of death was "asphyxiation and multiple fractures caused by compression of the chest".

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