Last week Rose-tu, an Asian elephant at the Oregon Zoo, made headlines for giving birth to a healthy 300 pound baby girl who is now the center of a campaign to find her a name and a controversy over her future.
“The outpouring support for the zoo and its newest resident has been incredible,” said Kim Smith, zoo director. “Rose-Tu and her calf are doing well. They’re bonding and comfortable with each other. Now it’s time to give the calf a name that suits her.”
What the zoo failed to tell everyone was that they don’t own this little one. According to the Seattle Times, the newborn is property of Have Trunk Will Travel, a private company that “rents out pachyderms to the entertainment industry, stages circus like events and offers elephant rides at $500 an hour.”
It’s part of a deal the zoo struck with company in 2005 to give them Rose-Tu’s second, fourth and sixth calves. The zoo initially denied any such deal until confronted by the Times with a copy of the contract, then they were all, “oh, that contract” and issued 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.
On Tuesday, Oregon Zoo director Kim Smith called a press conference to deal with the controversy generated by the Seattle Times, reports King 5.
“They can’t come here and take an animal,” she said. “The zoo and Have Trunk have a positive relationship and the company also wants to have the calf remain at the zoo.”
Even if the zoo wants to keep her, they already signed away their rights. If Have Trunk Will Travel wants to take her, they can.
If Have Trunk Will Travel sounds familiar, that’s because it’s the same company that came under fire last year for abusing elephants during the filming of the movie Water for Elephants. The company denied allegations, but indisputable mistreatment was caught on video.
The company also has a history of using chains and bullhooks and has faced criticism for allowing unrestricted contact with elephants at fairs and zoos. Yet, for some reason, the company is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which means they are free to breed elephants and trade them with zoos.
Meanwhile the AZA is free to mix ‘n match elephants with little regard for bonds forged and broken or what’s in their actual best interest, while pawning surplus animals off on the entertainment industry.
If Rose-tu were living in the wild, she and her calf would remain together for life.
Unfortunately, captive breeding and selling/trading wild animals is a common practice that affects the lives of thousands of creatures every year. The Oregon Zoo cited the Species Survival Plan (SSP) and an interest in having a multigenerational herd as the reason for entering into a contract with Have Trunk Will Travel and claims that their “work towards preserving the species is vital.”
“The hypocrisy of breeding animals in captivity who will be doomed to live in unnatural enclosures in the name of conservation and science is a practice which should be eliminated by the AZA and replaced with truthful information about captivity and the compelling need to protect wild species and habitat,” wrote Pat Derby, Director and Founder of Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) in a letter criticizing the AZA.
SSP programs result in “surplus” animals who are used to make genetic contributions to a captive population and are no longer needed afterwards. When zoos no longer need, or want to keep animals for whatever reason, they may sell them to dealers, circuses, traveling shows and even canned hunting facilities.
If zoos actually cared about elephants they would contribute to real conservation efforts instead of wasting fortunes on breeding programs and enclosures that will never be adequate for an animal that should be roaming miles every day with the ability to explore landscapes and choose their own companions. It does not serve elephants, or any species, to breed them with no plan for reintroduction into the wild or any plan to care for those used for the remainder of their lives.
Zoos themselves aren’t much safer when it comes to the well-being of elephants with captivity resulting in a host of problems that are not seen in the wild from foot problems and arthritis to fertility issues, behavioral abnormalities and aggression.
The Oregon Zoo itself has a history of failure when it comes to elephant care. Rose-tu was born there and has suffered abuse at the hands of her handlers who left bullhook wounds all over her body and emotional scars that left her unable to even tolerate being examined.
An exam in 2000 found “multiple puncture wounds on her head, behind her ears, on both shoulders and on both rear limbs. There were also two puncture wounds in the soft skin between the anus and the base of the tail. Rose also had a 15-inch long laceration over the top left gluteal area. She became agitated during the exam, especially when her tail area was examined, and further lesions could not be identified,” according to In Defense of Animals.
The abuse was so bad the USDA actually filed charges against the zoo for violating the Animal Welfare Act. Sadly, Rose-tu wasn’t the only one being abused.
Fortunately, the plight of captive elephants is gaining traction as more people learn about their physical, social and emotional needs. In recent years, many progressive facilities have phased out their elephant exhibits, while others are in the process of doing so.
A federal judge recently declared that Los Angeles zoo officials were delusional to believe their elephants are happy. Los Angeles is now working on banning elephants in circuses, while the three who have been waiting in Toronto to go to PAWS in California are finally expected to be moved from their inappropriately chilly home by the end of the year, with the help of large contribution from Bob Barker.
If you want to help elephants and other exotic animals in captivity please support state and federal legislation banning their use in traveling shows, circuses and auctions or as pets, avoid drive-through animal parks and roadside zoos or any zoos or facilities where they’re exploited or sold for a profit.
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