Zoo hopes to keep elephant but won’t have ownership

Nigel Duara / The Associated Press /

PORTLAND — The Oregon Zoo says it will retain possession of the country’s newest baby elephant, a 300-pound female pachyderm 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, a female that was born into captivity and has spent her life in a zoo, and Tusko, a male on long-term loan to the Oregon Zoo from Have Tusk Will Travel. A 2005 contract signed 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. The company didn’t respond to repeated calls and emails Tuesday from The Associated Press.

Have Trunk Will Travel co-owner Kari Johnson told The Seattle Times, “I can’t wait to hug her.”

The newspaper reported the details of the contract that gives ownership to Have Trunk Will Travel on Monday night, 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, attracting record-breaking attendance in his first month of public viewing.

But zoo ownership contracts differ from typical contracts that define ownership, said Association of Zoos and Aquariums spokesman Steven Feldman — while ownership agreements are in place, the parties that agree to the contract 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.

Five names for the calf were proposed by the zoo. The calf will be named in an online vote. Samudra and the new calf are the nation’s first third-generation offspring born into captivity.