A 300-pound baby elephant born at the Oregon Zoo in Portland has become the focus of controversy after a newspaper revealed a complex system of ownership that could doom it to a life in the circus.
The week-old female calf is the subject of a breeding contract between the zoo, which owns its mother, Rose-Tu, and Have Trunk Will Travel, a California-based elephant rental company, which owns its father, Tusko.
As The Seattle Times reported in a series of investigative articles about the poor treatment of pachyderms in captivity, the 2005 agreement gives Have Trunk Will Travel the legal right to claim the second, fourth and sixth offspring of Rose-Tu and Tusko’s union; the new arrival is their second.
To the horror of animal rights campaigners, the unnamed calf – whose adorable public debut has 23,000 YouTube views and counting – could thus be called upon as a prop for a Hollywood movie, as a circus performer, as a wedding attraction, or as a provider of elephant rides at $500 per hour.
At a heated press conference last week, however, the zoo’s director Kim Smith said the baby elephant would not be separated from its mother. “This is not an agreement that bears on where this animal lives,” Smith insisted. “Where the animal lives is at the Oregon Zoo.”