TODAY   |  December 08, 2012

Future uncertain for baby elephant at Oregon Zoo

A newspaper investigation revealed the new calf born at the Oregon Zoo actually belongs to a company that rents out elephants. The zoo director insists the baby will stay at the zoo with her mother and father, but there’s no guarantee they’ll be together forever. NBC’s Diana Alvear reports.

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>>> there are some questions about the fate of a baby elephant born at a zoo in oregon. its birth was greeted with joy, but an investigation has revealed the calf actually belongs to someone else. diana alvear reports.

>> reporter: she's less than a week old, but she's already captured the hearts of millions, including her mother, who covered her baby girl in trunk kisses. but the unnamed calf actually belongs to a california company that rents elephants out for rides, events and movies, such as "water for elephants."

>> it's been agreed that she will stay here, she's part of her herd.

>> reporter: the new calf is the second born to the bull elephant on loan from the rental company. the first calf was born in 2008 . he's owned by the zoo and lives there. but according to the contract, the second calf along with the fourth and the sixth will be owned by the company. half trunk will travel did not respond to our interview requests, but issued a statement saying it's excited about the birth of the calf and has worked with the zoo to support asian elephants , adding "half trunk will travel" has no intention and has never had any intention of coming to take the calf. but half trunk will travel has sparked protests for its handling of elephants in the past. undercover video shot in 2005 by the activist group animal defenders international show employees shocking and striking elephants during training. the company has said it treats its animals with love and care. oregon zoo director kim smith defended the company.

>> they care as deeply about elephants as we do. what's in it for them, the future of these elephants and our terrific vision.

>> reporter: the issue has brought new attention to the ongoing controversy about whether these animals should be kept in zoos at all. animal rights activists say that in activity, elephants are dying more quickly than they can breed them.

>> 50% of elephants in zoos are suffering from foot disease and arthritis, the cause of the cage they're in.

>> reporter: that's why the baby, born healthy, is a cause for celebration. it's her future that concerns her fans.