Public-private partnerships

elephant
The new arrival/Oregon Zoo

 

The concept of public-private partnerships sounds sensible and even high-minded, a resident in the world of win-win. Sometimes it is. But other times, it seems more questionable the closer you look.

Consider the story – one that surely will become so large as to be unavoidable before long, and interestingly broken by the daily in Seattle and not Portland – that the new baby elephant at the Portland Zoo belongs not to the zoo but to a private company.

From the Seattle Times: “A baby elephant born at Portland’s zoo last week may be fated to a life with a controversial traveling elephant show that rents out pachyderms to the entertainment industry, stages circuslike events and offers elephant rides at $500 an hour, The Seattle Times has found. … 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.”

That sort of agreement is said – now – to be fairly common among zoos. But how many people know that? (Many more will soon.) And what will they think about it as they learn the details?

The story hasn’t hit bottom. The Oregon Zoo has issued a FAQ which runs like this, answering some questions but sounding a little vague still in places:

Will Rose-Tu’s baby be sent away?
No, Rose-Tu’s calf will stay at the Oregon Zoo where she will live with her family in the newly expanded Elephant Lands habitat. She isn’t going anywhere.

Will the company Have Trunks Will Travel try to claim Rose-Tu’s baby?
Have Trunks Will Travel stated that they have no intention and have never had any intention of taking Rose-Tu’s calf. Read their statement here.

Does the zoo have a contract with the company Have Trunks Will Travel?
Yes, the zoo and Have Trunks Will Travel have an agreement outlining the breeding loan of Tusko and the resulting offspring. This agreement has always been a fact we’ve been willing to talk about. It has been reported in Portland’s local media.

Did you deny knowledge of this contract to the Seattle Times?
We’ve always been open about this information. When the Seattle Times reporter called, we denied that the calf would leave. We did not deny the existence of the contract.

Does the Oregon Zoo own Rose-Tu’s baby?
Have Trunks will Travel is the formal “owner” of the baby, although that ownership is in name only. We may eventually take formal ownership of Rose-Tu’s baby, but regardless, she will always live with her Oregon Zoo herd. The Oregon Zoo has been home to other residents who were not initially owned by the zoo, most notably Packy.

Why did the Oregon Zoo enter a contract with Have Trunks will Travel?
Simply put, the Oregon Zoo contract with Have Trunks will Travel is all about Tusko. The Oregon Zoo is an AZA accredited zoo and therefore participates in the Species Survival Plan (SSP) for elephants. The Taxon Advisory Group recommended breeding Tusko with Rose-Tu to increase genetic diversity in our herd.

Randy Stapilus

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