Metro Council President Tom Hughes said Tuesday the ownership arrangement for the Oregon Zoo's elephant calf seems routine, and expressed support for zoo officials in the wake of questions about the new addition's future.
"Zoo management are the most competent people," Hughes said in an interview Tuesday morning. "We have one of the best-run zoos in the country."
The elephant calf, born last week to zoo-owned elephant Rose-Tu, was sired by Tusko, an elephant owned by Have Trunk Will Travel, a California-based elephant rental outfit.
The Oregonian mentioned the ownership arrangement in 2011 and again earlier this year, and the Seattle Times detailed it Monday night as part of a series of stories looking at elephant breeding and management in the United States. According to the Seattle Times, the calf, as the second-born offspring of Tusko at the Oregon Zoo, would be property of Have Trunk Will Travel.
The Seattle Times story, coming days after the calf's birth, prompted an outcry Tuesday morning as the prospect was raised that the calf would not stay at Washington Park. Oregon Zoo director Kim Smith sent an e-mail to Metro councilors and hosted a press conference Tuesday.
Smith, in her press conference and in a statement, said the calf would not leave the zoo. She said the zoo had already been negotiating on the calf's future when the Seattle Times published its story.
"Negotiations are ongoing for Oregon Zoo ownership of Rose-Tu's latest calf," she said. "We are committed to our vision and negotiations were initiated prior to the birth of this latest calf."
Her memo said the arrangement was routine.
"This contract is representative of standard agreements in the zoo industry," she said. "While it may not be widely understood by the public, many animals live out their lives in the care of people who are other than their legal owners."
Hughes said he first heard about the ownership arrangement from Smith's memo, but thought the arrangement sounded routine.
"I think it is so common a practice amongst, not just the Portland zoo, but amongst zoos nationwide that they never gave it a thought," the Metro Council President said. "I think they don't believe it really had much to do with the final disposition of the animal."
He said he did not think the Metro Council needed to take a further look at animal ownership at the zoo.
"We have trained professionals that have operated zoos for a long time," Hughes said. "My understanding is that this is not an unusual circumstance – that we have a number of animals that are owned by other folk that stay at the zoo for their entire lives."
Note: The Oregonian also mentioned the ownership agreement earlier this year. This story has been updated to a link to that article.