The Seattle Times' investigation of elephant breeding practices at zoos has uncovered a bombshell: The Oregon Zoo signed a contract that gives ownership of elephant Rose-Tu's newborn calf to a California-based traveling show that rents out elephants for weddings and movie shoots.
Times reporter Michael J. Berens writes that the female calf born to Rose-Tu on Nov. 30 is the property of "a controversial traveling elephant show that rents out pachyderms to the entertainment industry, stages circuslike events and offers elephant rides at $500 an hour."The Oregon Zoo's contract with Perris, Calif. company Have Trunk Will Travel was signed in 2005 so that one of the company's bull elephants, Tusko, could be brought to Oregon to mate with Rose-Tu. In exchange, the Times says, the zoo promised to give Have Trunk Will Travel rights to Rose-Tu's second, fourth and sixth calves.
After The Times provided a copy of the contract, zoo officials responded with a statement:
"The contract is valid. As per the agreement, official designation of ownership takes effect after the calf has lived 30 days. Once that happens, the Oregon Zoo will be in discussion with Have Trunk Will Travel regarding ownership, and it is the zoo's intent to retain Rose-Tu's calf."
But under terms of the contract, the zoo does not have the power to keep the elephant if Have Trunk Will Travel wants to take possession.
The story goes on to say that Have Trunk Will Travel has drawn criticism for its elephant rides, often provided at weddings and state fairs.
The Times' story is the latest in a series that casts a damning light on zoo efforts nationwide to breed "glamour beasts," despite an infant mortality rate three times of that in the wild.
Oregon Zoo officials told The Oregonian late this evening that they will negotiate to keep the calf. WW will update the story as it develops.