Lily, the Oregon Zoo's newest elephant calf, and her father Tusko, will stay in Portland. Zoo officials finalized an agreement Friday taking ownership of the elephants from a California company.
The Oregon Zoo has a signed contract: Lily the elephant is here to stay.
Zoo officials inked the deal Friday, taking legal ownership of Rose-Tu’s new calf from Have Trunk Will Travel, the California-based company that had previously held rights to the young elephant.
News that lily was actually owned by Have Trunk Will Travel made headlines when she was born in December. Some worried she'd be taken away.
“Lily’s living arrangements were never in question,” said Kim Smith, zoo director. “But this makes it official: Lily will live her life with her family herd, the way elephants should.”
Smith said the zoo also will keep Tusko, the 13,000-pound bull elephant who sired both Lily and Samudra and has been here on a breeding loan since 2005. The zoo arranged to acquire both elephants for $400,000, voiding its loan agreement with Have Trunk Will Travel and putting to rest any speculation that Tusko’s future offspring might not belong to the zoo. The purchase was funded entirely by the Oregon Zoo Foundation, the private nonprofit fundraising arm of the zoo, and did not involve public monies.
Lily’s status was secured Friday with a payment for half the total purchase amount, while the transaction involving Tusko is complete pending a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (a requirement since Tusko was born outside the country).
Smith said she understands the need for reassurance about the fate of Rose-Tu’s calf, as well as the initial public outcry over some misleading reports. “Given the sensationalized story people were first presented with, that’s exactly how they should have reacted,” Smith said. “If I thought for one minute that this baby was going to be taken from her mother — taken from her home — I would be outraged too. But Lily was never going away, and I think everyone understands that now.”
Controversy arose when a Seattle newspaper ran an article suggesting the zoo’s newborn elephant calf could be plucked from her mother and dropped into a traveling circus. As evidence, the paper produced a copy of the 2005 breeding loan for Tusko; the agreement stipulated that Tusko’s second, fourth and sixth offspring would be owned by Have Trunk Will Travel.
The contract, Smith said, was a standard one — and old news to those who’d followed Tusko’s story in The Oregonian. In the zoo world, she noted, ownership is not an indicator of where an animal will live. Even so, the timing of the Seattle article hit a nerve with local residents, who had fallen hard for Rose-Tu’s baby and sought reassurance that she wasn’t going away.
The Oregon Zoo is recognized worldwide for its successful breeding program for Asian elephants, which has now spanned 50 years. Lily’s grandmother, Me-Tu, was the second elephant born at the zoo (just months after Packy in 1962), and her great-grandmother, Rosy, was the first elephant to live in Oregon.