February 8, 2013  11:00 AM

Lily and Tusko now owned by Oregon Zoo after help from foundation

Tusko and Lily will be staying in the West Hills.



Lily the elephant, born last November, will be staying at the Oregon Zoo after a $400,000 contract buyout with her previous owner, Have Trunk Will Travel.

The Oregon Zoo finalized a $400,000 deal this week with Have Trunk Will Travel to buy out a contract with that California-based outfit, which loaned Tusko, an Asian elephant, to the zoo.

As part of the deal, the zoo now legally owns both Tusko and his second offspring, Lily. The deal also guarantees that the Oregon Zoo, part of Metro, will own any of Tusko's future offspring.

View the contract (PDF)

The money for the purchase is being provided by the Oregon Zoo Foundation, a donor- and grant-driven nonprofit that supports the zoo. According to a financial report, it had more than $8 million in unrestricted reserves at the end of its 2011-12 fiscal year.

Tusko arrived at the zoo in 2005 on loan from Have Trunk Will Travel, with the understanding that the second, fourth and sixth elephant calves he sired would belong to Have Trunk Will Travel. While that had been reported in the local media, a Seattle Times series about zoo elephant welfare re-hashed the ownership arrangement and prompted an outcry in the Portland region.

In an interview Friday, Oregon Zoo director Kim Smith said Tusko's unique demeanor made it important for the zoo to permanently make him part of its herd.

"He has good manners, and understands what it means to be part of a herd. It's really critical for their welfare," Smith said. "It was really important to us to continue to be Tusko's advocates in his life. His wonderful social abilities were really important to our herd. It wasn't just about owning future offspring. It was about having Tusko as part of our family group."

She said the donation from the Oregon Zoo Foundation won't impact its ability to help the zoo with its mission.

"We respond to the needs of the zoo," said Foundation board of trustees chair Mark Loomis. "The $400,000 is a result of ongoing efforts to reach out to the community for their support when it comes to unrestricted gifts."

That includes fundraising from special events like ZooBrews, as well as general donations and community support, Loomis said.

"We're really grateful the community has allowed us to be in a position to help the zoo out in a time like this," he said.

The transfer cost is less than the $500,000 the Houston Zoo paid for an adult and calf.

"We benchmarked (prices) very strongly throughout the zoo community, on other elephant transactions," Smith said. "We made sure for the animals we're talking about, the age of the animals and the value to our herd, that we were fair" in the price, she said.

Smith said negotiations for ownership have been going on for two years, but picked up speed after Lily's November birth.

The zoo said Tusko's ownership transfer is awaiting final approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which must give its blessing because Tusko was born outside the United States. Lily's ownership deal is complete, the zoo said.

"It's incredible that we have such a wonderful Oregon Zoo Foundation," Smith said. "We are going to be the advocates for the animals' lives for the duration."

Metro News editor Nick Christensen can be reached at nick.christensen@oregonmetro.gov or 503-813-7583. Follow Metro on Twitter @oregonmetro.

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