Elephant Lands at the Oregon Zoo — its largest construction project ever — opened in December 2015 after nearly four years of design and construction. Building on the zoo’s acclaimed conservation efforts and elephant breeding program, this expansion quadrupled the size of the zoo’s elephant habitat, filling nearly one-tenth of the institution’s entire 64-acre (26 hectare) footprint.
Bigger and better elephant habitat
The creators of Elephant Lands based their plans on decades of elephant research and science-based care, developing a habitat that allows these intelligent and social animals to explore and play as they would in the wild — all while letting visitors get closer to the pack than ever before.
The exhibit’s newly constructed bridge connects the outdoor exhibit to Forest Hall, the elephant’s natural light-filled indoor habitat, offering sweeping, panoramic views of the entire 6-acre (2.5 hectare) exhibit. Whether it’s watching Lily, the zoo’s youngest Asian elephant (born at a hefty 300 pounds in 2012) roll in the mud wallows, observing Chendra playfully dunk herself into the 160,000-gallon (605,666 liter) pool or seeing Rose-Tu take a nap under a new shaded overhang — there’s no shortage of elephant life to see up-close. And once acclimated, the elephant family’s newest addition—a four-ton male named Samson—will also get to enjoy the new digs. Transferred from New Mexico’s Albuquerque Bio Park Zoo in April 2018, keepers are hoping the 19-year-old Samson will be a mature male role model for Samudra (the 10-year-old male offspring of Rose-Tu) and a potential breeding partner for Rose-Tu herself, which will help ensure the future of this magnificent endangered species.
Zoo-goers can also play zookeeper with the addition of interactive technology that allows visitors to identify a specific elephant then record how it’s behaving in its new habitat. The data collected from on-site ID stations and the Elephant Lands app will help the zoo learn more about its largest residents, making visitors part of important elephant research.
New & upcoming at the zoo
The elephants aren’t the only ones with new digs at the zoo. Opened in 2014, the Condors of the Columbia habitat is home to a wide array of colorful, intelligent and highly endangered birds, and offers plentiful up-close viewing opportunities for visitors.
There are more exciting projects in the pipeline at the Oregon Zoo. The zoo plans to open a new education center in 2017, which will be home to summer camps and teen volunteer programs and will offer educational exhibits, lectures from wildlife experts, nature documentary screenings and more. The polar bear habitat is also slated to be revamped in 2019, providing the arctic animals with larger terrain and plentiful viewing opportunities for visitors.
Not to be left out, the primate exhibit will be completely reconstructed by 2020, with a new design built especially for chimpanzees and mandrills. The new habitat will be larger and more complex, allowing these highly intelligent animals more room to explore and socialize. Finally, the zoo’s hippo exhibit will be converted into a habitat for critically endangered black rhinos, which will be joined by other large grassland species in a future African savanna habitat.