The Oregon Zoo’s adorable baby Asian elephant just turned 3 months old, and she’s a little firecracker, if you can call an elephant about to crack 500 pounds “little.”
Lily—that’s what the public voted to name her—was standing up in her first 10 minutes, zoo director Kim Smith tells The Daily Beast. Later that day, she was chasing her big brother, Samudra, around the yard. The fuzzy pachyderm figured out how to use her trunk to grab stuff in the first week. And even though she wasn’t a big fan of the mashed-up banana her handlers gave her last week, Lily is trying to pick up bamboo like her mom, Rose-Tu.
And thanks to a deal the zoo cut with the California private elephant ranch Have Trunk Will Travel, Lily will continue her precocious development right where she is. No whip-wielding, curly-mustachioed circus ringleader will come spirit her away.
Smith insisted in an interview Monday that this fate would never have befallen Lily, despite the contract the zoo signed with the owners of Lily’s father, Tusko, granting the California company that owns him the rights to his second, fourth, and sixth offspring. The public dissemination of that contract led to an uproar in December, after shocked elephant lovers around the country learned that Have Trunk’s proprietors could if they felt like it lay claim to baby Lily and ship her off to wherever they wanted her to perform tricks.
Smith at the time did her best at damage control, facing down a room full of reporters in an effort to assure the world that Lily wasn’t going anywhere. Have Trunk Will Travel’s owners weighed in too, releasing a statement that the company had “no intentions” of taking the baby elephant.
But animal-rights activists, among others, were unconvinced. The contract says what it says, they pointed out, and Smith admitted to The Daily Beast that there’s nothing on paper guaranteeing what the zoo and the company were telling the public.
“The reality is, Have Trunk Will Travel is in business to put elephants in the circus and in movies, and they had the legal right, according to the contract,” Matt Rossell, campaigns director for Animal Defenders International, told The Daily Beast. “We were very concerned about the possibility that a year or two down the road they could take Lily and put her in the circus. You can’t get a baby elephant in the wild anymore, and you can’t train an adult elephant to do circus tricks.”
After a couple months of negotiations, the Oregon Zoo Foundation agreed to fork over $400,000 for the ownership rights to not just Lily but Tusko, too.
“It’s mainly to reassure the community that these animals were not going to leave our care,” Smith said, “and also to confirm that we will be their advocates for life. It was something we had always intended to do.”
That seems like an awful lot of money to reassure the public, said Catherine Doyle, director of science, research, and advocacy for the Performing Animal Welfare Society: “Would they really have blown $400,000 if this wasn’t a possibility?”