PORTLAND – An Oregon zoo says it will retain possession of the country’s newest baby elephant, a 300-pound female that hasn’t yet been named, even though it won’t own the animal.
A breeding contract gives ownership of the calf born Friday in Portland to a California for-profit elephant rental company, Have Trunk Will Travel. But the zoo says the elephant will live out her life in its walls.
“It was never in question for this calf,” Oregon Zoo director Kim Smith said. She “was always going to live here.”
The elephant is the second baby for Rose-Tu, who has spent her life in a zoo after being born into captivity, and Tusko, a male on long-term loan to the Oregon Zoo from Have Trunk Will Travel. A 2005 contract between the company and the zoo says the company takes ownership of the pair’s second, fourth and sixth offspring after 30 days.
But Smith said Have Trunk Will Travel expressed no interest in taking the calf during negotiations with the zoo that started before the animal was born.
“Have Trunk Will Travel has no intention and has never had any intention of coming to take Rose-Tu’s calf,” company co-owner Kari Johnson said Tuesday in an email to the Associated Press. She added that her company “supports Oregon Zoo’s vision for elephants and has great appreciation for the way they care for elephants.”
Johnson added, “We could not be more excited about the birth of this new calf.”
The Seattle Times on Monday night reported the details of the contract, the substance of which was mentioned in a 2011 story in the Oregonian.
Under the agreement, the zoo kept Rose-Tu’s first calf, a male born in 2008 named Samudra. He was no small draw for the zoo, pulling in record-breaking attendance in his first month of public viewing.
But zoo ownership contracts differ from typical contracts that define ownership, Association of Zoos and Aquariums spokesman Steven Feldman said. While ownership agreements are in place, the parties involved usually defer to the organization that can best care for the animal.
Both the Oregon Zoo and Have Trunk Will Travel are association members.
“It is a rather remarkable and unique system that you don’t find in other lines of work,” Feldman said. “That’s just how it works.”
Feldman said most koalas in the U.S., for instance, are owned by the San Diego Zoo, which loans them out to other zoos or organizations with several stipulations, including that the koalas get fresh eucalyptus. It’s part of their “Species Survival Plan,” something drawn up by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for 303 species.
Standards issued by the association range from the amount of shade and drinking water that should be made available to Asian elephants, to pad and nail trimming.
Samudra and the new calf are the nation’s first third-generation offspring born into captivity.