Born in the U.S.A.
We're still reeling from the news that the new baby elephant at the Portland zoo in fact belongs to a California elephant rental company that gets low grades from animal rights groups. Willy Week called the revelation a bombshell, and that's exactly right.
Of course, as we predicted, yesterday zoo officials spent the day trying to convince everyone that there was nothing newsworthy in the story. Lending of animals happens all the time, there was never any intent to put the baby in the carnival show, we're negotiating in good faith, blah blah blah. We caught a clip of the zoo director on the news last night, and she looked guilty as sin. It was faintly reminiscent of an episode of "Cops." The zoo has been, quite exquisitely, busted.
The O and the TV stations all fell in behind the establishment, faithfully repeating every spin statement emanating from the zoo operators. Big headlines: Baby is going to stay, yada yada. Since the originally story appeared in the Seattle Times, and the lame Portland news organizations missed it, of course they were happy to relay the message from Metro headquarters that there was really no story for them to miss. It's all perfectly normal, everything's fine -- it was the message Portland mainstream media is always more than happy to send out.
The problem for the zoo and the editors who were embarrassingly scooped is that this is not perfectly normal, and everything's not fine. This is not one nonprofit zoo borrowing an exotic animal from another. This is a government-run zoo selling an animal to a circus. That doesn't happen all the time, and it's not right.
And for all the talk about what everyone's "intent" is, the fact is that under the contract between the zoo and Have Trunk Will Travel, HTWT owns the calf. Maybe it will leave her in Portland with her mother -- maybe for a while, maybe forever -- but it clearly doesn't have to. She's the property of HTWT. That outfit literally owns her.
Yesterday the kids at the Merc dug out an old Oregonian story that reported that HTWT could not legally take possession of the baby until she turns four years old. But the contract that was published in several places yesterday contains no such clause.
What doesn't hang together in all the discussion of the baby's future is that it doesn't reveal what's in this for the carnies. Here they have lent their main stud elephant to Portland -- he's been up here getting it on at least twice now -- and so far, from all appearances, they haven't been compensated for it at all. Under the contract, this baby is one of three that are supposed to make up the compensation. If they don't take her, they provided the stud service for free.
Sorry, but that isn't a credible story. At some point, either some elephant flesh or some money will have to be paid by Portland to HTWT, and apparently it will be up to HTWT, not the zoo, to decide which to take.
You can just imagine in a few years, when the heat is off, the zoo deciding that this particular elephant is a "problem." Or that the elephant quarters are becoming too "crowded." And then off to her owners she will go, there to suffer who knows what indignities.
Why is the Oregon Zoo dealing with a traveling elephant carnival, anyway? HTWT "trains" its elephants to perform unnatural acts for human entertainment. According to videos that are readily available on the internet, it does so by means of stun guns, sharp hooks, sticks, and other weapons that terrorize the animals into doing their human masters' will. All for a profit, of course. The Oregon Zoo is supposed to be above that. And it isn't. The precise degree of its complicity in the HTWT operation isn't entirely clear at this point, but even if it's as limited as zoo officials would like us to believe, they still have made a deal with the devil. That kind of thing needs to stop.
We think it would be entirely appropriate for Oregonians to boycott the zoo until the contract with HTWT is terminated. Maybe animal rights groups will suggest something like this in the days ahead.
They're running a poll to choose a name for the baby out of five pre-sanitized selections offered by the zoo staff. Screw that. She's not the zoo's property, and so Joe or Jane on the street has as much right to name her as the zoo does. How about "Loaner"? Or as one reader commented here yesterday, given who her owner is, maybe "Bullhook" would be appropriate.