Company that owns baby elephant is no friend of animal rights groups

Company that owns baby elephant is no friend of animal rights groups »Play Video
A one day old Asian elephant calf in the elephant maternity ward with her mother Rose-Tu at the Oregon Zoo. © Oregon Zoo / photo by Michael Durham

PORTLAND, Ore. – The California elephant rental company that owns the baby elephant born last week at the Oregon Zoo has been the focus of abuse allegations by multiple animal rights groups.

Animal Defenders International (ADI), an animal rights group based in Los Angeles, released video of an elephant named Tai, which is owned by Have Trunk Will Travel, being shocked and beaten during training for a role in the film “Water for Elephants.”

Have Trunk Will Travel has a history of beating and shocking elephants owned by the company into submission, according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

“When not working, the elephants spend much of their time chained by two legs, barely able to take a step forward or backward,” said Jennifer O’Connor with PETA.

PETA and other groups claimed trainers with the company hit elephants with heavy metal tools called bull hooks, which have hooks on the end, and shocked them with a stun gun.

The owners of Have Trunk Will Travel, Gary and Kari Johnson, issued a statement in response to the video and abuse allegations.

“The video shows heavily edited and very short snippets, obviously taken surreptitiously six years ago, purporting mistreatment of our elephants,” the Johnsons said.

“Rest assured that we will continue to provide Tai and all of our elephants with the love and excellent care they deserve.”

KATU News has reached out to the Johnsons by phone and email but has not heard back.

The company is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Calls to the AZA by KATU were not returned Tuesday.

A Portland spokesman for the group In Defense of Animals (IDA) called for the Oregon Zoo to end its relationship with Have Trunk Will Travel.

“To partner with a group that routinely abuses animals, and has been caught routinely abusing animals is just insane,” said Eric Phelps. “How the AZA can stand by an organization that is so clearly abusing their elephants is bewildering. I don’t understand it at all. That’s something the AZA should answer for.”

The zoo in Santa Ana, Calif. and the San Diego County Fair have both cut ties with Have Trunk Will Travel after demonstrations against the company’s treatment of elephants in both cities.

Despite the ownership contract with Have Trunk Will Travel, Oregon Zoo Director Kim Smith said on Tuesday that the baby elephant will not leave the zoo.

Smith also said the zoo has a positive working relationship with Have Trunk Will Travel.

“We have a really strong relationship with Have Trunk Will Travel and they really believe in our vision and they pledge support of our vision,” said Smith. “Our vision again is about matriarchal herds and developing that matriarchal herd choice for our elephants’ strong welfare.”

Early Tuesday evening Have Trunk Will Travel released a statement stating it has no intention of taking Rose-Tu's calf from the Oregon Zoo.

Have Trunk Will Travel has no intention and has never had any intention of
coming to take Rose-Tu’s calf.  Have Trunk Will Travel supports Oregon Zoo’s vision for elephants and has great appreciation for the way they care for elephants.  We are very proud of the significant contribution we have made together for Asian elephants.

We could not be more excited about the birth of this new calf.