The most ambitious project in Oregon Zoo history is now complete: a world-class home for a world-famous elephant family.
Here is a brief overview of a habitat engineered to usher in a new era in elephant care and welfare. The opening date for the first phase of Elephant Lands was December 2015. It spans 6 acres that extend around much of the zoo’s eastern side from the central lawn to the veterinary medical center. It is more than four times the size of the zoo’s former elephant habitat, and accounts for nearly one-tenth of the zoo’s total 64-acre footprint.
The total budget for the project was $57 million, which—in addition to Elephant Lands itself—also included construction of a service access road, rerouting of the zoo train loop and relocation of the zoo’s Wildlife Live headquarters. Elephant Lands was the fourth of eight major projects made possible by the community-supported 2008 zoo bond measure. Thanks to the generous support of community members, the Oregon Zoo Foundation raised $5.35 million to support Elephant Lands and the zoo’s conservation, education and animal welfare efforts. Gifts from private donors supported educational interpretives, technology and features to enhance the habitat, as well as ongoing efforts to inspire our community to care about the natural world.
Engineered to promote animal welfare and herd socialization, Elephant Lands features large, connecting outdoor habitats linked to flexible and communal indoor spaces. From the project’s inception, the emphasis has been on activity and choice: letting the elephants decide how they will spend their days and nights.
- Three outdoor habitats provide a rich and diverse rolling landscape for Portland’s elephant family, with sandy hills, deep swimming pools, mud wallows and relaxing shady areas.
- The indoor space—one of the largest in the world—is nearly 33,000 square feet, and 43 feet tall at its highest point. It is designed to allow access to the outdoor habitats, at the animals’ discretion, in all types of weather.
- Throughout Elephant Lands, indoors and out, three to four feet of sand serves to cushion and protect the elephants’ feet while also giving them a workout.
- Play structures and hanging feeders require elephants to use their muscles and brains to reach hidden treats. Automated feeders, programmed to dispense food at random times throughout the day, encourage natural foraging behaviors.
Portland’s famous Asian elephant family includes seven members, ranging from two of the oldest and largest males on the continent (Packy and Tusko) to the rambunctious youngster Lily, who recently turned 3.
The zoo is a service of Metro and is dedicated to its mission of inspiring the community to create a better future for wildlife. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, western pond turtles and Oregon spotted frogs. Other projects include studies on Asian elephants, polar bears, orangutans and giant pandas.
Support from the Oregon Zoo Foundation enhances and expands the zoo’s efforts in conservation, education and animal welfare. Members, donors and corporate and foundation partners help the zoo make a difference across the region and around the world.
The zoo opens at 9 a.m. daily and is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26. General zoo admission is $11.50 (ages 12-64), $10 for seniors (65 and up), $8.50 for children (ages 3-11) and free for those 2 and younger. Additional information is available at oregonzoo.org or by calling 503-226-1561.