Are you upset that Rose-Tu's calf is owned by an elephant rental company?
PORTLAND -- Rose-Tu's newborn calf is owned by an elephant rental company called Have Trunk Will Travel, based in California, but the Oregon Zoo said it's all part of standard breeding agreement -- and the company says it has no intention of taking the calf.
“Have Trunk Will Travel has no intention and has never had any intention of coming to take Rose-Tu’s calf," a statement said Tuesday night. "Have Trunk Will Travel supports Oregon Zoo’s vision for elephants and has great appreciation for the way they care for elephants. We are very proud of the significant contribution we have made together for Asian elephants.” Read statement (MS Word)
The calf will remain at the zoo in perpetuity, Oregon Zoo director Kim Smith assured Tuesday morning during a hastily called press conference to deal with negative reaction to a Seattle Times story headlined: "Portland's baby elephant belongs to traveling show."
Have Trunk Will Travel owns Tusko, the elephant who fathered Rose-Tu's calf. He also earlier had fathered Samudra, born in 2008, who remains at the zoo and is owned by the zoo. The contract calls for ownership of Tusko's second calf to go to the California company, as well as his fourth and sixth calves, should future births occur. The first, third and fifth belong to the zoo.
The contract also gives the Oregon Zoo right of first refusal if Have Trunk Will Travel wants to "sell, trade or otherwise dispose of" the calf born last week.
Have Trunk Will Travel owner Kari Johnson told the Times she was thrilled with the latest birth and cannot wait to see the calf. "We'll go for a visit. I can't wait to hug her," she said.
"They can't come here and take an animal," Smith said of the California company. The zoo and Have Trunk [Will Travel] have a positive relationship and the company also wants to have the calf remain at the zoo."
While outlining what she characterized as a controversy created by the Seattle Times headline, and saying repeatedly that the calf will remain at the zoo, Smith said the zoo and the company remain in negotiation over the specifics of the ownership.
One of the conditions in the current contract reads "This agreement will remain in effect until terminated by one of the parties. Either party shall have the option of terminating the agreement by giving the other party 60 days written notice prior to the effective date of termination."
Smith also sent a message out to all members Tuesday, insisting that Rose-Tu and her calf will remain at the Oregon Zoo. "While it may not be widely understood by the public, many animals live out their lives in the care of people who are other than their legal owners. The Oregon Zoo has been home to other residents who were not initially owned by the zoo, most notably Packy," Smith said, in the statement.
Elephants belonging to the company have appeared in "Evan Almighty," "Water for Elephants," "Operation Dumbo Drop" and other films, documentaries and commercials.
Smith said knowledge of the contractual agreement has never been hidden and has been publicized by the zoo and media in the past. The zoo's email announcing the Tuesday morning press conference also included a link to an Oct. 2011 Oregonian story that mentioned the outside contract.
That story explained that Tusko is owned by Have Trunk Will Travel. It also explained that, according to the contract, a new calf would remain at the zoo for at least four years, or permanently depending on negotiations with a captive elephant management group.
In addition, a June 22nd Oregonian story cited by the newspaper as an example of prior coverage about the contract discusses the ownership agreement and possible fate of the calf in its 22nd and last paragraphs.
Neither the zoo nor the Oregonian brought up the ownership agreement on the day the calf was born.
In its story, the Seattle Times reported that Oregon Zoo spokesman Hova Najarian denied knowledge of a contract. Najarian said he never denied knowledge of the contract.