The Oregon Zoo has agreed to pay $400,000 to an elephant trafficking company in order to keep baby elephant Lily at the zoo.
Shortly after she was born, three months ago, we learned that Lily is legally the property of the infamous Have Trunk Will Travel, a company that rents out elephants to entertainment companies for shows, movies and rides. Have Trunk had loaned one of its elephants, Tusko, to the Oregon Zoo in exchange for ownership rights to the second (Lily), fourth and sixth babies who would be born to Tusko and Rose-Tu, with whom he was mated.
Have Trunk, therefore, had the legal right to take Lily away when she was just 30 days old. And videos of how the company treats its elephant “properties” left people who saw them in complete shock.
Oregon Zoo director Kim Smith tried to reassure her constituents that Have Trunk was not going to call the zoo on its contract and take Lily away. Have Trunk also said they planned to leave Lily at the zoo:
“Have Trunk Will Travel has no intention and has never had any intention of coming to take Rose-Tu’s calf. Have Trunk Will Travel supports Oregon Zoo’s vision for elephants and has great appreciation for the way they care for elephants. We are very proud of the significant contribution we have made together for Asian elephants. We could not be more excited about the birth of this new calf.”
But Matt Rossell, campaigns director for Animal Defenders International, doesn’t trust Have Trunk one inch.
“The reality is, Have Trunk Will Travel is in business to put elephants in the circus and in movies,” he told the Daily Beast. “And they had the legal right, according to the contract. We were very concerned about the possibility that a year or two down the road they could take Lily and put her in the circus. You can’t get a baby elephant in the wild anymore, and you can’t train an adult elephant to do circus tricks.”
Lily does not “belong” to the zoo or to any human organization. She belongs to her mother.
The zoo must have not trusted Have Trunk either. It just paid the company $400,000 in exchange for ownership rights to Lily. Zoo director Smith says that this was primarily to “reassure the community that these animals were not going to leave our care.”
But $400,000 is an awful lot of money to pay for something that you apparently know for sure is never going to happen.
And if Have Trunk wasn’t lying in its statement, all they had to do was void the contract altogether. The fact that they weren’t prepared to do that tells us everything we need to know about the true plan.
Lily is certainly safer at the zoo. But the zoo is not a hero in this story. Lily does not “belong” to the zoo or to any human organization. She belongs to her mother.
In her homeland, she would have grown up in a large, extended, close-knit family that included not only her mother, but aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters and cousins, and her grandmother, who would perhaps have been the matriarch of the family, guiding the younger mothers in the care of their young as she was once guided by her own mother.
All of that is lost in captivity, and regardless of what any zoo or anyone else in the entertainment industry tells you, nothing can ever replace it.