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Oregon Zoo spends $400,000 to keep Lily, Tusko in Portland

by: COURTESY OF MICHAEL DURHAM: THE OREGON ZOO - Lily, the Asian elephant born Nov. 30, will stay at the Oregon Zoo under an agreement with a California company that claimed rights to the elephant calf.Lily, the Oregon Zoo’s newest elephant, is staying in Portland.

An agreement completed Friday gave the zoo legal ownership of Rose-Tu’s calf. The Perris, Calif., company Have Trunk Will Travel gave up ownership rights to Lily and Tusko, her father, for $400,000.

“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 agreement, and the $400,000 payment, voids its loan agreement with Have Trunk Will Travel and means that Tusko’s future offspring will belong to the zoo, not the California company.

Funds for the agreement came from the Oregon Zoo Foundation, the private nonprofit fundraising arm of the zoo, and did not include any public dollars.

“We are grateful to the dedicated donors who recognize the zoo as an important community asset and support our work through the Oregon Zoo Foundation,” Smith said. “The ongoing support these gifts provide not only made this ownership transfer possible but helps advance our daily efforts to create a better future for wildlife.”

Lily’s status was secured Friday with a $200,000 payment. The transaction involving Tusko still needs a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (a requirement because Tusko was born outside the country).

Lily’s future was called into question a few weeks after she was born when a Seattle newspaper revealed a 2005 breeding agreement between the zoo and Have Trunk Will Travel, saying that Tusko’s second, fourth and sixth offspring would be owned by the California company.

Have Trunk Will Travel leases its elephants for movies, television programs and special events. The company has been criticized for its treatment and exploitation of elephants, but says it protects and provides a comfortable home for the animals.

“This controversy was much ado about nothing,” Smith said. “But it’s still been incredibly gratifying to see our community come together like this on behalf of elephants. The passion we’ve seen is precisely what we aim to inspire — it’s what gives me hope for the future, because Asian elephants are facing serious threats to their survival right now.”