Last Friday the Oregon Zoo proudly announced that its prized Asian elephant, Rose-Tu, had given birth to a 300-pound baby girl. The news made international headlines and a public campaign was launched to name the newborn elephant, the second child for mother Rose.
What zoo officials did not disclose in any news releases was the fact that they do not own the baby elephant, and that she might become separated from her family and end up in a traveling show.
Oregon zoo’s baby elephant walks alongside her mother less than a week after being born. Image posted below is from just after the birth. Credit: Oregon Zoo
The Seattle Times reported Monday that the newborn is the property of Have Trunk Will Travel, a private company that “rents out pachyderms to the entertainment industry, stages circus-like events, and offers elephant rides at $500 an hour.”
Have Trunk Will Travel owns Tusko, the father of both of Rose-Tu’s offspring, but Tusko resides at the Oregon Zoo. Under terms of a contract between Have Trunk Will Travel and the zoo, the former company is entitled to the second, fourth, and sixth offspring produced by the pair of adults.
The Times reported that its discovery of the breeding contract “highlights the dark side of elephant captivity, in which zoos are desperate to breed more elephants at any cost” because of their immense popularity as show animals.
Have Trunk Will Travel, which is located in Perris, California, has come under fire from animal rights groups for the manner by which its elephants are trained.
The Oregon Zoo, however, is saying that the baby elephant will stay put. After acknowledging the existence of the breeding contract, it issued a statement to Times reporter Michael J. Berens, stating:
“The contract is valid. As per the agreement, official designation of ownership take effect after the calf has lived 30 days. Once that happens, the Oregon Zoo will be in a discussion with Have Trunk Will Travel regarding ownership, and it is the zoo’s intention to retain Rose-Tu’s calf.”
On Tuesday the zoo held a news conference to deal with the fallout of the Times’ story. Zoo director Kim Smith is quoted by King 5 News as saying: “They can’t come here and take an animal. The zoo and Have Trunk have a positive relationship and the company also wants to have the calf remain at the zoo.”
Kari Johnson, who co-owns Have Trunk Will Travel with her husband, Gary, told the Times that they were looking forward to visiting the newborn elephant and added that details regarding her future had not yet been worked out.
Meanwhile, publicly, the zoo still wears a happy face regarding their prized new addition. A large headline on its website home page reads, “Welcome to the herd, baby!” And the naming contest continues, via public voting, with submissions such as Jaidee, Sirikit, Rakhi, Lily, and Siddhi under consideration.
Voting concludes Sunday, and perhaps by then zookeepers will know more about whether the young elephant will be able to stay with her family, or end up in a traveling show.
In the wild, the bond between mother and daughter is lifelong.
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