A baby elephant born at Portland’s zoo last week may be fated to a life with a controversial travelling elephant show that rents out pachyderms to the entertainment industry, stages circus like events and offers elephant rides at $500 an hour, The Seattle Times has found.
The newborn calf is the property of a private company, Have Trunk Will Travel, of Perris, Calif., which assumes ownership of the newborn within a month.
Last Friday’s birth of a 300-pound Asian female at the Oregon Zoo sparked public celebration and generated national news. The zoo industry promptly declared the event a victory in its quest to preserve and propagate an endangered species.
But the newborn calf doesn’t legally belong to the Portland zoo. Instead, it is the property of a private company, Have Trunk Will Travel, of Perris, Calif., which assumes ownership of the newborn within a month, according to a contract between the Oregon Zoo and the company that was obtained by The Times.
Oregon Zoo officials quietly cut a deal to give up the second, fourth and sixth offspring between Rose-Tu, owned by the zoo, and Tusko, a prolific male owned by Have Trunk Will Travel. Last week’s birth was the second offspring between the pair.
The Times’ discovery of the breeding contract highlights the dark side of elephant captivity, in which zoos are desperate to breed more elephants at any cost. The Times reported this week in a two-part series, Glamour Beasts, that elephants are dying out in America’s zoos. Zoos have depended on elephants as crowd pleaser’s and revenue generators, but for every elephant born, on average two others die, a Times analysis has found.
Since 2005, the industry’s trade group, Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), has aggressively promoted breeding efforts to counteract declines in captive elephant populations. Just 288 elephants remain inside 78 U.S. accredited zoos.
Kari Johnson, who co-owns the business with her husband, Gary, confirmed Monday that Have Trunk Will Travel owns legal rights to the newborn under a contract signed with the Oregon Zoo in 2005. Details of the newborn’s future have not been worked out, she said.
“We are just thrilled,” Johnson said. “We’ll go for a visit soon. I just want to hug her.” “I wonder how long it will be before she is being forced to perform, not much older than the little one in the video?”
Hova Najarian, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Zoo in Portland, initially denied knowledge of the contract, saying Friday the unnamed newborn “is here for life.”
After The Times provided a copy of the contract, zoo officials responded with 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.”
At a Tuesday morning press conference, zoo director Kim Smith said the zoo is negotiating with the company to take ownership of the calf. She expects the calf to live at the zoo permanently.
But under terms of the contract, the zoo does not have the power to keep the elephant if Have Trunk Will Travel wants to take possession.
The contract, signed in June 2005, stipulated that Have Trunk Will Travel would transfer their male elephant, Tusko, to the Oregon Zoo. Records show that Tusko, now 40, arrived the following month; he remains at the zoo.
Because elephant gestation takes 20 to 22 months, breeding males may stay at zoos for many years.
Have Trunk Will Travel owns five Asian elephants, ages 27 to 47. In 2010, its 4-year-old Asian male succumbed to the fast-acting elephant endotheliotropic herpes virus (EEHV), which may spread by contact and kills only elephants. “The baby that died was called JP, he was the fourth baby elephant to be born at Have Trunk Will Travel, Rose-Tu his mum, was not able to conceive naturally, so JP’s birth was achieved through artificial insemination.
The company has generated controversy over its 30-year history for its use of chains and bullhooks — long-handled, clawed-end training tools used to discipline elephants and train them to perform tricks. “I Think they mean force them to do tricks, no elephant in the wild stands on it’s trunk or hind legs (except when mating) I find it appalling that these amazing animals can be treated so poorly in captivity when there are so few wild ones left. We should not keep them incarcerated in zoo’s etc. Captive elephants can’t go back to the wild, but they can go to a sanctuary that is the closet to their natural habitat…
“PAWS Sanctuary would be heaven for any captive animal, especially for elephants to live in. The elephant habitat at ARK 2000 provides the elephants with hundreds of acres of varied natural terrain to roam, lakes to bathe in, and state-of-the-art elephant barns equipped with heated stalls and therapeutic Jacuzzis.”
Have Trunk Will Travel faces mounting criticism for offering elephant rides at regional fairs and zoos. “It takes a split second for an elephant to turn…probably because they have had enough of being jabbed & poked, forced to do degrading tricks that are detrimental to their health…so they loose it, & lash out! But as usual there will have to be an accident where someone gets hurt; before something can be done about it!”
Kari Johnson said the company’s elephant rides at wedding events is a fast-growing revenue stream. “My God, is there nothing these people aren’t prepared to do for $$$$ How degrading for the largest land animal on earth to have to do! With a mass just over 5 kg (11 lb), elephant brains are larger than those of any other land animal. A wide variety of behaviours associated with intelligence have been attributed to elephants, including those associated with grief, making music, art, altruism, play, use of tools, compassion and self-awareness.”
“Imagine the groom carried high atop an elephant as friends and family dance around him,” the company’s website reads. “The elephants are beautifully decorated and are accustomed to taking part in Indian weddings.”
The company has also provided elephants for such films as “Operation Dumbo Drop,” “Larger Than Life” “George of the Jungle,” “Jungle Book” and “Evan Almighty.”
Have Trunk Will Travel practices unprotected contact with elephants, using bull-hooks to control the animals. The practices are prohibited at most zoos. Even so, the company is accredited by the AZA. “To train an elephant to do circus tricks, it has to be hands on, with a bull hook & an electric shocker…how do you think they get them to do the tricks? Watch the video below to find out!“
As a result, the travelling show is free to breed its elephants and exchange off spring with most U.S. zoos.
Tusko’s first calf with Rose-Tu was born in August 2008, a male named Sumudra. After the delivery, Rose-Tu went into a “frenzy,” zoo officials said, and stepped on her newborn. “Is there any wonder? Captive elephants giving birth have many people surrounding them, the mothers feet are usually chained up so she can’t move around, to ease herself whilst in labour. Elephants are very clever, clever enough to know the calf is going to be taken, thus getting mad & frustrated; I doubt she stepped on her baby on purpose!”
Zoo keepers quickly rescued Sumudra. They believed the first-time mother, born at the zoo in 1994, was frightened and unfamiliar with the birthing process. Mother and son reunited without incident. “Exactly, every first time mum needs calm surroundings, room to move around to ease the pain etc. She will have been scared & in a great deal of pain, having a baby is not a spectator sport…they don’t need our interference in the wild to successfully raise babies, they know better than humans do what their baby needs. But typical humans think they know what is best!”
After Friday’s birth, keepers put the female newborn in a rope harness in case they needed to quickly pull her away from her mother. But Rose-Tu and her daughter bonded smoothly, officials said.
In the wild, mother and daughter live together for life. “Yet, in captivity, this baby elephant can be taken from her mother after only a month..imagine how she is going to feel, losing her baby…well, how would you feel?”
“This is what that new baby elephant has to look forward to, at Have Trunk Will Travel…listen to the elephants cry out in pain as they are given electric shocks. See how hard they are hit with the bull-hooks for doing nothing wrong!! Watch how the little baby has his trunk held, whilst the bull hook goes under his chin…It’s just heartbreaking !! I don’t know how they have the cheek to say they truly care for them, on their web site”
Have Trunk Will Travel Elephant Abuse
Uploaded on 23 Aug 2011
Everything in this video was filmed at Have Trunk Will Travel, of Perris, California. HTWT supplies trained elephants for movies, advertising, personal appearances elephant rides, fairs & other public appearances.
This video is courtesy of Animal Defenders International
“Have Trunk Will Travel in my opinion is nothing more than a circus for rent…take a look at their webpage….http://www.havetrunkwilltravel.com/home.html
Read their Mission on their home page…family, truly cares, health & welfare….please…After seeing the above video, then reading their mission…I fell out my wheelchair laughing…because it’s a joke!!”