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Elephants lead zoo expansion

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Thursday, December 20, 2012


New parents Rose-tu (left) and Tusko at the Oregon Zoo. 
// Photo courtesy Oregon Zoo

With the birth of its new elephant calf, Lily, the Oregon Zoo has a more tangible reason to expand their elephant enclosure.  The zoo has a history of baby elephant fever leading to public approval of expansions. When the zoo's first elephant, Rosy, arrived in 1953, voters passed a levy to pay for construction of a new on-site facility, a levy that had been rejected only a few years before.

Lily was the 28th calf born at the zoo, starting with Packy in 1962. Less than three weeks after she was born, Metro unanimously approved two resolutions to help the state’s most popular paid tourist attraction expand its enclosures for endangered Asian elephants.

One resolution increased the zoo’s budget for a planned on-site elephant habitat known as Elephant Lands. The zoo’s current elephant habitat is 1.5 acres, but the planned 6-acre expansion has been in the works since voters approved it as a $39.5 million chunk of a $125 million bond measure in 2008. Geotechnical issues with old landslides pushed the project plans $13.1 million over the agreed upon budget due to stabilization needs. Even after cutting corners wherever possible, the zoo’s modified proposal came out $3.9 million over the original budget.

Metro approved the budget overrun, plus $1 million more that had been cut in the cost-saving deliberations. The extra money comes from an unexpected $10 million premium from bond sales in May

The second resolution gives Metro COO Martha Bennett the authority to purchase 240 acres in Clackamas County. The land on the former site of Portland General Electric’s Roslyn Lake Park will become an elephant reserve, greatly expanding the Oregon Zoo’s elephant program. The purchase agreement with PGE has the price of the land at $900,000, but that was set to go up to $1 million if Metro didn’t act by Dec. 31. The purchase was another part of the 2008 Oregon Zoo bond measure.

The large space will allow elephants to form herds and live more like they do in the wild. The zoo hopes to have two herds, one at each site, to better allow bulls to move between the groups. Currently, the elephant's three bulls and matriarchal herd act as four separate groups, with zoo officials deciding when the elephants socialize with each other. With Rose-Tu's first calf, 4-year-old male Samudra, nearing maturation, allowing the elephants to choose how they spend their time would benefit both the elephants and zoo keepers. And in Portland, where Packy is one of the best known local celebrities, expanding the elephant breeding population will prove to be a much-talked about affair.

Emma Hall is web editor for Oregon Business.


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