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Wild custody fight over a 300-pound baby in Oregon

An Asian elephant calf, here with her mother Rose-Tu in the Oregon Zoo, is at the center of a custody battle. The zoo in Portland and an elephant rental company in California both claim ownership of the baby born last week. (Photo via AP by Michael Durham/Oregon Zoo)

She’s only five days old and already she’s a “spitfire” according to the people who care for her.

She nudges against her mom. They’ve already bonded.

The baby girl, who doesn’t have a name yet, is at the center of a custody drama.

The Oregon Zoo says it owns the Asian elephant calf, born November 30 at 2:17 a.m., weighing 300 pounds.

A California company that provides pachyderms for stage events and circus shows says the calf is theirs.

As the Oregon Zoo launches a contest to name her – options are Jaidee, Sirikit, Rakhi, Siddhi or Lily – it also defends their legal right to the elephant.

“Rose-Tu’s baby is not going anywhere,” says Kim Smith, director of zoo in Portland. “She’s staying at the Oregon Zoo with her mother and her family. That was never in question.”

Ownership is a question. The Seattle Times uncovered the newborn calf is the property of a private company, Have Trunk Will Travel. That company expects to assume ownership of the newborn within a month.

According to a contract the Times obtained, Oregon Zoo officials 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.

The Oregon Zoo’s director says the contract is a “standard agreement” and that they do not intend to give up babies born at the zoo.

Smith says the zoo is home to “many other residents who are not initially owned by the zoo.” Many of their animals were initially owned by other zoos, and they have separate breeding agreements with a number of companies.

“The bottom line is that Rose-Tu’s daughter will live her life here at the Oregon Zoo with her family,” Smith says. “Our elephants will continue to live in family groups here at the zoo.”

Have Trunk Will Travel confirms to me this morning they will not take the baby elephant away from her mother. They are negotiating – meaning talking money – a deal that would give the Oregon Zoo full ownership.

By LINDA THOMAS

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