Animal Legal Defense Fund Urges Oregon Zoo to Void Contract with Traveling Circus and Save Baby ElephantDecember 12th, 2012
For immediate release
Lisa Franzetta, ALDF
Megan Backus, ALDF
PORTLAND — This week, the national nonprofit Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) sent a letter urging the Oregon Zoo to void their breeding contract with Have Trunk Will Travel (HTWT), a California elephant rental operation. The appeal comes after the November 30 birth of a baby Asian elephant named Lily and the revelation of the Oregon Zoo’s contract with HTWT. Unless the zoo voids their contract, Lily could be removed from her mother as the property of HTWT, who rents elephants out to the entertainment industry. Video footage released in 2011 showed HTWT trainers routinely beating and chaining elephants, in violation of Endangered Species Act protections given to the animals. The discovery of the agreement between the Oregon Zoo and HTWT has led to public outrage, including the likes of renowned animal advocate Bob Barker. ALDF’s letter urges the Oregon Zoo to renounce their contract with the company and guarantee that Lily will stay with her mother.
A copy of ALDF’s letter follows.
December 11, 2012
President Tom Hughes
600 NE Grand Ave.
Portland, OR 97232
(503) 797-1793 Fax
Kim Smith, Zoo Director
Mike Keele, Director of Elephant Habitats
4001 SW Canyon Road
Portland, OR 97221-9704
(503) 223-9323 Fax
Dear Metro Council President Hughes and Council, Ms. Smith, and Mr. Keele:
On behalf of the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), I write with concern regarding the loan agreement between the Oregon Zoo (Zoo) and Have Trunk Will Travel (HTWT). Transferring Lily, the Zoo’s new baby elephant, to HTWT, where elephants are routinely beaten and chained, would violate the Endangered Species Act’s prohibition on taking endangered animals. I strongly urge you to take whatever steps are necessary to void the contract and prevent the transfer of any elephant to HTWT, now or in the future.
On Nov. 30, 2012, a baby female Asian elephant, Lily, was born at the Zoo. Despite Lily’s place of birth, the governing contract states that she is actually owned by the elephant rental company and notorious abuser HTWT. As soon as the ownership information became public, both the Zoo and HTWT emphasized that the calf would live at the Zoo. Yet there was never doubt that Lily would remain at the Zoo as a baby, because separating her at a young age would violate zoo industry policies. Nothing in the contract, however, prevents her transfer to HTWT once she ages. Such a transfer would not be unprecedented. During the 1980s and into the 1990s, the Zoo transferred elephants, including babies, to the entertainment industry. In facts nearly identical to those of today, Dino, an Asian elephant born at the Zoo in 1963, was transferred to HTWT some time before 1968.
Have Trunk Will Travel Abuses Elephants into Submission
HTWT is an elephant ranch and company that provides endangered Asian elephants for use in the entertainment industry, such as at weddings and in movies and commercials. In order to “train” elephants to perform in unnatural ways, handlers use painful instruments, including bullhooks, to commit physical violence that establishes human dominance and control.
In March 2011, Animal Defenders International released video footage of abuse at HTWT’s facility in Perris, California. The video footage shows HTWT handlers, including owners Gary and Kari Johnson, aggressively hitting, jabbing, poking, and hooking several elephants. The owners and their employees are seen abusing elephants with bullhooks and electric stun guns. Baby elephants receive no lighter treatment than adults. Footage shows HTWT trainers dragging a two- to three-year-old female elephant by her trunk, hitting her on her head and trunk with a bullhook, and jabbing inside her mouth with a bullhook.
The Contract Between the Zoo and HTWT Violates Both the Endangered Species Act and Zoo Industry Policies
Removing Lily from the Oregon Zoo and placing her into HTWT’s entertainment workforce will violate both federal law and the policies of the Zoo’s accrediting organization.
The broad definition of a prohibited “take” under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) means Lily will suffer statutory violations as soon as she arrives at HTWT, where it is certain that a handler will raise a sharp metal bullhook for the inevitable first blow. Under the ESA, “take” includes any act that harasses, wounds, or harms an individual member of an endangered species. Bullhook use clearly meets the definition. During closing arguments of a lawsuit concerning elephant abuses at Ringling Brothers, even the defendant circus’s lawyers admitted that elephant training methods fit within the plain meaning of the words “wound” and “injure.”
Public entities that indirectly permit “takes” are themselves liable under the ESA. As detailed above, video footage of HTWT provides a virtual certainty that Lily will be harmed, harassed, and wounded—and therefore taken under the ESA—once she arrives at HTWT. Were the Zoo to facilitate this transfer, it would itself be subject to a lawsuit under the ESA.
Transferring Lily to HTWT will also violate industry-wide policies of the Zoo’s accrediting organization, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The AZA’s Elephant Taxon Advisory Group recommends transfer only when the “move represent[s] an improvement in the overall situation for the elephant.” In addition, the organization requires member zoos to “make every effort to assure that all animals . . . do not find their way into the hands of those not qualified to care for them properly.” Undercover video of HTWT leaves no doubt that Lily will suffer a significant decline in care and welfare if she is moved and forced to work for her current owners.
Accordingly, I request that you, as governing body and officials of the Zoo and guardians of its elephants, ensure the newborn baby elephant has a life free from the toils of entertainment abuse. By voiding the current contract, or at minimum modifying it to guarantee that the baby elephant will not end up in HTWT’s possession, the Zoo can eliminate the risks of violating the ESA, AZA policy, and betraying the trust of its visitors.
Animal Legal Defense Fund
919 SW Taylor, 4th Floor
Portland, OR 97205
170 East Cotati Avenue
Cotati, CA 94931