Zoo director: New calf not leaving, zoo working to take ownership

Zoo director: New calf not leaving, zoo working to take ownership »Play Video
A one day old Asian elephant calf in the elephant maternity ward with her mother Rose-Tu at the Oregon Zoo. © Oregon Zoo / photo by Michael Durham

PORTLAND, Ore. - Kim Smith, Director of the Oregon Zoo, said the new elephant calf born just last week is going to spend her life at the zoo despite an uproar over an ownership contract with a company that uses the animals for business and entertainment purposes.

After the content of the contract was publicized by The Seattle Times on Monday, there was an immediate wave of concern over the new arrival's future at the Oregon Zoo.

At a news conference Tuesday morning, Smith reiterated time and again that Have Trunk Will Travel, the company holding the pending ownership contract for the as-yet unnamed female calf, "supports our vision" of breeding elephant herds and keeping the newborn with it's mother at the zoo.

"This is not uncommon for an entity like Have Trunk Will Travel to have an animal at the Oregon Zoo and to have breeding loans and have a calf born and not get anything for it," Smith said.

Before the news conference, the zoo posted messages on their Facebook page saying the calf was going to stay at the zoo.

According to the contract, ownership of the calf reverts to Have Trunk Will Travel once the calf reaches 30 days old. It's not clear yet exactly what Have Trunk Will Travel plans to do once they take ownership of the calf.

KATU has reached out to the owner of Have Trunk Will Travel by phone and email but has yet to hear back.

Smith said representatives for Have Trunk Will Travel, headquartered southeast of Los Angeles, are planning to visit the zoo soon to see the new calf, and not to take it away. "'Ownership doesn't really mean anything," Smith said during the press event.

She also said that the owners of Have Trunk Will Travel have been "'honest all along" about their intentions.

"A breeding loan agreement doesn’t say where that animal lives, it just says who owns her," Smith said. "But the fact that she’s on this property and she’s living with her mother - that’s where she lives."

But Smith stopped short of saying the calf's tenure at the zoo was guaranteed and said the zoo, which is a non-profit organization, is in negotiations with the company to own the baby elephant.

Smith said the contract only designated ownership of the animal, and did not control where it would live. In response to reporters' questions, she said repeatedly that Have Trunk Will Travel was committed to keeping the new calf at the zoo.

"This calf will stay here with her family and grow up with her family and be one of the founders as we continue our matriarchal herd," Smith said Tuesday morning.

Smith also noted that a contract related to outside ownership of an animal that is on display at the zoo was common and that many of the zoo's animals live at the complex while under such contracts, including the new calf's father, Tusko.

She said the Oregon Zoo's relationship with Have Trunk Will Travel is centered on Tusko and that the zoo has a good relationship with the company.

Bob Lee, the elephant curator at the zoo, said in decades past, personnel tried to wean elephant calves away from their parents so they could be sent elsewhere but that practice is now in the past due to greater understanding of elephant herds and breeding.

He said female elephants, such as Rose-Tu and her new female calf, typically spend their entire lives together. Lee also said the zoo plans to continue breeding Rose-Tu and future births are part of the plan.

Elephants can live for many decades.

Watch the Oregon Zoo press conference (24 minutes):