Furor over revelations that the Oregon Zoo traded away ownership of a newborn elephant was soothed somewhat last night by the California traveling show that will own the calf saying it has no plans to take her away.
But a breeding contract between Have Trunk Will Travel and the Houston Zoo suggests that the Oregon Zoo will have to pay through the nose if it wants to buy the baby elephant back.
The 2008 contract, sent to WW by the Performing Animal Welfare Society, shows that Have Trunk Will Travel sold a 27-year-old female elephant named Tess to the Houston Zoo for $500,000. The California company, which rents out elephants for movie productions and weddings, threw in Tess' three-year-old male calf Tucker for free. (The Seattle Times mentioned this price tag in its follow-up story this morning.)
But here's what's more relevant to the Oregon Zoo's current bargaining: The contract stipulates that when Tess has her first female calf, the Houston Zoo will pay Have Trunk Will Travel another $100,000.
The contract is similar in wording to the deal Have Trunk Will Travel made with the Oregon Zoo. The company sent its bull elephant Tusko to the Oregon Zoo for breeding, in exchange for rights to the second, fourth and sixth calves he sired. The baby elephant born to Rose-Tu on Nov. 30 is the second calf fathered by Tusko.
Oregon Zoo deputy director Chris Pfefferkorn told WW yesterday that the zoo is negotiating to buy the calf.
"We're trying," he said. "Again, they've been very supportive of us."
But former Oregon Zoo elephant keeper Phil Prewett says zoo officials paid too steep a price for Tusko's breeding services, considering the zoo is one of the few that houses adult male elephants.
"I do think it's a bad deal," Prewett says. "The guy ought to be paying you to take the bull off his hands. Anybody that gets rid of an adult bull should be thrilled—now I don't have to worry about this elephant killing people."