Oregon Zoo

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Oregon Zoo
Oregon Zoo logo.png
Asian elephants at the zoo
Date opened1888; 132 years ago (1888)
LocationWashington Park, Portland, Oregon, United States
Coordinates45°30′30″N 122°42′53″W / 45.50833°N 122.71472°W / 45.50833; -122.71472Coordinates: 45°30′30″N 122°42′53″W / 45.50833°N 122.71472°W / 45.50833; -122.71472
Land area64 acres (26 ha)[1]
No. of animals1,800[1]
No. of species232[1]
Annual visitors1.6 million (2016)[2]
Major exhibitsThe Great Northwest, Africa Savanna, Africa Rainforest, Elephant Lands

The Oregon Zoo, originally the Portland Zoo and later the Washington Park Zoo,[4][5] is a zoo located in Washington Park, Portland, Oregon, approximately 2 miles (3.2 km) southwest of downtown Portland. Founded in 1888, it is the oldest zoo west of the Mississippi River.[6]

The 64-acre (26 ha) zoo is owned by the regional Metro government. It currently holds more than 1,800 animals of more than 230 species, including 19 endangered species and 9 threatened species.[1] The zoo also boasts an extensive plant collection throughout its animal exhibits and specialized gardens.[7] The zoo also operates and maintains the 2 ft 6 in (762 mm) narrow gauge Washington Park & Zoo Railway that previously connected to the International Rose Test Garden inside the park, but currently runs only within the zoo.

The Oregon Zoo is Oregon's largest paid and arguably most popular visitor attraction, with more than 1.6 million visitors in 2016.[2] The zoo is a member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.


The Oregon Zoo was founded in 1888,[4] making it the oldest North American zoo west of the Mississippi.[6] It all began with two bears purchased by Richard Knight – one brown bear and one grizzly.[8][9] A former seaman turned pharmacist, Knight began collecting animals from his seafaring friends. He kept his collection in the back of his drug store on Third & Morrison streets. When caring for the animals became too large a responsibility he sought to sell them to the city of Portland. Instead of buying the animals, the city offered to give Knight two circus cages and allowed him to place the caged bears on the grounds of City Park (now called Washington Park).[8]

Care and feeding of the bears, however, still fell to the Knight family and friends. It wasn't long before Knight addressed the city council again regarding the bears. Just five months later, he offered to donate the bears, along with their cages, to the city. Portland City Council accepted his offer[8] on November 7, 1888, and thus began the Portland Zoo.[4] Located in Washington Park, it was sometimes referred to as the Washington Park Zoo.[10][11]

By 1894, there were over 300 animals in the zoo’s collection. In 1925, the zoo moved to the site of the present Portland Japanese Garden, still within Washington Park.

The zoo moved again in 1958–59 to its current site, designed by Lawrence, Tucker & Wallmann.[12] This was located in Hoyt Park, west of Washington Park,[13] but some years later the two parks were combined as Washington Park. At this time, the Portland Zoo Railway was constructed to connect the zoo to its former site in Washington Park and other attractions there. The zoo's move to the new, much larger site was made in stages, over more than a year, with the first animals being moved in spring 1958 and limited public access being opened in June 1958, one day after the first section of the Zoo Railway opened.[14] During the transition period the new zoo was only open on weekends, as most animals were still at the old site awaiting completion of their new enclosures.[15] However, the new railway operated six days a week until mid-September. Meanwhile, the old zoo remained in operation, but in May 1959 was restricted to pedestrian access only, closed to automobile access, for its last months of operation.[16]

The zoo at its current site opened on July 3, 1959.[17] It was renamed the Portland Zoological Gardens at that time,[4] but remained commonly known as the Portland Zoo. The elephants and big cats were not moved to the new zoo until November.[18][19] A new interchange was constructed on the adjacent freeway, the Sunset Highway, for better access to the new zoo.[20]

The zoo became popular locally in 1953, when Rosy the Asian elephant was acquired. The zoo became world-famous in 1962 when the Asian elephant "Packy" was born. He was the first elephant born in the Western Hemisphere in 44 years and was (as of 2010) the tallest Asian elephant in the United States at 10.5 ft (3.2 m) tall. A total of 28 more calves have been born at the Oregon Zoo, including seven sired by Packy (two of which, Shine and Rama, remained at the zoo), making it the most successful zoo elephant breeding program in the world. On August 23, 2008, Rose-Tu, the granddaughter of the zoo's first elephant Rosy, gave birth to a son named Samudra. The birth made Samudra the first third-generation captive-born elephant in North America.[21]

Attendance in 1962, the year in which Packy was born, was 1.2 million people.[22] Over the next several years, the number of animals declined, from 450 (representing 150 species) in 1962 to 386 (representing 123 species) in 1976, and annual attendance also declining over the same period, reaching its lowest point in 1975, with 448,198 visitors.[22]

Until 1971, the zoo was operated by the City, and then by the Portland Zoological Society under contract to the City.[4][23][24] In 1976, area voters approved a tax levy plan under which the zoo was taken over by the Metropolitan Service District (or MSD, now known as Metro).[25] Ownership of the zoo passed to Metro on July 1, 1976. Metro has continued expansion projects, aided by donors, sponsors and volunteers.[4]

Later in 1976, MSD renamed the zoo the Washington Park Zoo[4] after a naming contest.[11] The railway was renamed the Washington Park and Zoo Railway two years later.

Veterinary Medical Center completed in 2014

The decline in attendance seen in the 1960s and 1970s eventually began to reverse, and the zoo recorded 752,632 visitors in 1984 and 897,189 in 1986.[26]

The Metro Council changed the zoo's name from the Washington Park Zoo to the Oregon Zoo in April 1998.[5] In September of that year, the zoo became accessible by the region's MAX light rail system, with the opening of a Westside MAX line featuring an underground Washington Park station.[27] In 2003, the zoo began participation in a California condor recovery program started by San Diego Wild Animal Park and Los Angeles Zoo. The program is designed to breed California condors to be released into the wild and save them from extinction.[28]

In November 2008, regional voters approved a $125 million bond measure to improve infrastructure, enhance older exhibits and increase access to conservation education and the degree of sustainability.[29] Attendance at the zoo reached a record 1.6 million visitors for their 2008 to 2009 year.[30] The record was due in part to the birth of another baby elephant.[30] A new record was set the following year with 1,612,359 people visiting the zoo.[31] The zoo again brought in more than 1.6 million visitors in 2016.[2]

On February 9, 2017, Oregon Zoo staff decided to euthanize Packy after a long struggle with drug-resistant tuberculosis. He was laid to rest at an unidentified city-owned "wooded, grassy area" that is not open to the public.[32] At the time of his death, Packy was 54 years old.


Africa Rainforest[edit]

Opened in 1991, the Africa Rainforest exhibit covers 1.3 acres (5,300 m2) and was built at a cost of $4.3 million.[33] In addition to animals, the exhibit includes artwork and the Congo. Ranger Station, a mock up of a safari expedition.[33] Animals in the exhibit include Rodriguez fruit bats, straw-colored fruit bats, colobus monkeys, Allen's swamp monkey, hadada ibis, Sacred ibis, Patagonian mara, African spoonbills, Helmeted guinea fowl, white-faced whistling ducks, slender-snouted crocodile, African lungfish, scorpions, lesser flamingos, geckos, African crested porcupines, African clawed frogs, and an African rock python. The rainforest includes four main areas: the Bamba Du Jon Swamp, which houses the lungfish, frogs and reptiles; the rainforest aviary, which houses the birds; the monkey habitat which houses the monkeys and chameleon; and the bat habitat.[33]

Africa Savanna[edit]

The Africa Savanna exhibit first opened in April 1989 and is 4 acres (16,000 m2) in size.[34] This exhibit includes animals typical of East Africa and includes an aviary and areas for large mammals.[34] These include bontebok, De Brazza's monkeys, naked mole-rats, masai giraffe, reticulated giraffe, Wattled cranes, Speke's gazelles, southern ground hornbill, weaver birds, Cape thick-knee, Brown house snakes[disambiguation needed], red-crested turaco, hamerkop, buffalo weaver, African spurred tortoises, and spiny-tailed lizards.[34] The zoo kept a plains zebra named Citation until her death in 2013. The zoo had also kept a pair of hippos named Poppy & Bubbles until March 2018, when they were moved to the Fort Worth Zoo so the zoo could expand their Eastern black rhinoceros habitat.

Predators of the Serengeti, a $6.8 million exhibit which opened in September 2009, expanded the Africa Savanna 2.5 acres (10,000 m2) into the site of the former Alaska Tundra exhibit.[35] Animals in the exhibit include lions, cheetahs, African wild dogs, Veiled chameleons, Prehensile-tailed porcupines, ring-tailed lemurs, black and white ruffed lemurs, red ruffed lemurs, dwarf mongooses, and red-billed hornbills.[36] The zoo previously had lions, but closed the exhibit in 1998 to build Steller Cove.[35] The three new lions come from zoos in California, Virginia and Wisconsin.[35] On September 4, 2013, it was announced that five-year-old Neka, one of the zoo's two female lions, was pregnant and would likely soon give birth, it then happened in late 2013, as she gave birth to three cubs, named Kamali, Zalika and Angalia respectively. In August 2014, it was announced that the other lioness, Kya, was due herself. On September 8, 2014, Kya gave birth to a litter of four lion cubs. Three days later, however, one of the cubs had to be humanely euthanized due to an untreatable leg injury.[37]

Amur Cats[edit]

Amur leopard in the feline area

Built in the remaining portion of the 1959 feline building (the rest was demolished to make way for Steller Cove), the Amur Cats exhibit is planted to evoke a northern Asian forest. The Amur cats exhibit now houses red pandas and Amur tigers.

The exhibit formerly contained a pair of Amur leopards with a 19 year old male named Boris being one of the oldest Amur leopards in captivity. Boris was euthanized on October 10, 2018.[38]

Elephant Lands[edit]

Packy (left) and Rose-Tu, two Asian elephants at the Oregon Zoo

Three female (Sung-Surin "Shine", Rose-Tu, and Chendra; Lily died on November 29, 2018) and two male (Samudra and Samson) Asian elephants are displayed at the popular elephant exhibit. All were born at the zoo, with the exception of Chendra, who was orphaned in the wild; and Samson, who was acquired from the Albuquerque Zoo. Chendra is the only Borneo elephant in the United States. On November 30, 2012, at 2:17 a.m., Rose-Tu and the late Tusko (who are also the parents of Samudra) had a female calf Lily, weighing about 300 lbs (136 kg) at birth. There is a swimming hole in which up to ten elephants can simultaneously completely submerge, sandy ground for comfortable walking and a scratching station, which the elephants often choose to scratch their head, sides, belly, etc. The exhibit was recently enlarged from 1.5 acres (6,100 m2) to 6 acres (24,000 m2), expanding into the same location as the elk and wolves (now gone) once were. Construction for the expansion began in 2013, and included a variety of terrain (meadows, forests, and mud wallows with sand lining the whole enclosure), a timed-feeding system to provide more natural stimulation, and an eco-friendly heating system to keep them warm year-round. Areas of the exhibit such as the Encounter Habitat were completed in summer of 2014, and their new habitat was finished in autumn of 2015.[39]

Great Northwest[edit]

This exhibit includes wildlife from the western portions of the Pacific Northwest, and has eight areas: Black Bear Ridge, Eagle Canyon, Cascade Stream and Pond, Cougar Crossing, Cascade Crest, Trillium Creek Family Farm, and Steller Cove.[40][41] Cascade Canyon Trail connects each of the exhibits, except Steller Cove, and includes a suspension bridge that offers views of Black Bear Ridge.[42]

Opened in 1998, Cascade Crest is a mountain-like exhibit made mostly of basalt and features a snow cave, cirque lake, and twisted alpine trees. The 10,920 square feet (1,015 m2) exhibit cost $11.6 million and is located near the entrance to the zoo.[43] The only animals are mountain goats.[43]

Black Bear Ridge is the next exhibit along the Cascade Canyon Trail.[42] The $2 million area opened in 2007 and is home to black bears and bobcats.[44] Black Bear Ridge has four black bears (three males and one female) added in April 2010 after the previous three had been euthanized for health reasons. Their names are Tuff, Dale, Cubby, and Takota.[45]

Eagle Canyon is the next exhibit along the trail and has two bald eagles along with coho salmon, sturgeon, rainbow and bull trout in a stream.[46] This 20,800-square-foot (1,930 m2) area opened in 2004.[46]

Cascade Stream and Pond is the oldest of the Great Northwest exhibits, having opened in 1982. It features beavers, North American river otters, Western painted turtles, Lamprey, ring-tailed cats, egrets, herons, and other waterfowl.[47]

Cougar Crossing features two cougars, Chinook and Paiute, in a 4,260-square-foot (396 m2) facility that opened in 2006.[48]

Next to Cougar Crossing is Condors of the Columbia. Three California condors, Kaweah, Tyrion and "432" (unnamed), moved into this new exhibit on May 24, 2014. These condors came from a large breeding facility located near Estacada, Oregon.

The last area along the Cascade Canyon Trail is the Trillium Creek Family Farm. Opened in 2004 at a cost of $1 million, animals are presented by high school students who also explain local farming historical trends, technology, and demonstrate related activities such as composting, shearing, and agriculture.[49] A variety of domestic animals such as Guinea pigs, Pygora goats, Pygmy goats, Nankin chickens, runner ducks, and domestic rabbits are part of the farm's exhibits.

The final area of the Great Northwest Exhibit is the Steller Cove which features animals and plants from the Oregon Coast.[50] The $11 million exhibit opened in 2000 and includes a tide pool and kelp forest populated with harbor seals (Phoca vitulina), sea otters (Enhydra lutris), sea anemones, chiton, limpet, snail, mussel, crab, sea cucumber, urchin, sea star, rockfish, sculpin, goby, wolf eels, painted greenling, and gunnel.[50]

Former species included Steller's sea lions ( Eumetopias jubatus), Roosevelt elk, and grey wolves.

Nature Exploration Station[edit]

The Nature Exploration Station is part of the zoo's education complex that opened in 2017. It includes interactive educational exhibits, an insect zoo with living insects and other arthropods, and western pond turtles being raised for release into the wild.[51]


A Humboldt penguin in the Penguinarium

The zoo has a Penguinarium which exhibits Humboldt penguins, Inca terns, and Grey gulls. Originally built in 1959, it was extensively remodeled in 1982 to represent the Peruvian coast, and remodeled again in 2011 to improve water efficiency.[52]

Polar Passage[edit]

Scheduled to open in 2020, Polar Passage will feature polar bears (Ursus maritimus) in an exhibit modeled on the Arctic tundra and coast that includes naturalistic landscaping, tundra plants, elevated areas for long views, shallow and deep saltwater pools, and areas to accommodate family groups.[53]

Primate Forest[edit]

Currently anchored by the Zoo's 1959 primate building, the primate forest is undergoing substantial renovation that includes demolition of most of the old primate building. The current primate exhibit features chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes). Following renovation, the primate exhibit will include Red Ape Reserve, a 2010 indoor/outdoor exhibit housing orangutans and white cheeked gibbons, and a new, larger chimpanzee habitat that will replace the primate building.[54]

As of 2019, the zoo houses the world's oldest Sumatran orangutan, Inji, who celebrated her 59th birthday on January 30, 2019.[55]

Other attractions[edit]

  • Wildlife Live! summer shows, weather permitting
  • Summer concert series
  • Zoolights: December holiday evenings light display
  • Washington Park and Zoo Railway
  • Carousel


The Oregon Zoo collaborates with wildlife agencies and conservation organizations on recovery projects for imperiled species including California condors, western pond turtles, northern leopard frogs, Oregon silverspot butterflies and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies.[56]

In 2001 the zoo joined the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s California Condor Recovery Program.[57] As of 2019, 79 chicks have hatched at the zoo’s Jonsson Center for Wildlife Conservation and 56 Oregon Zoo-reared birds have gone out to field pens for release.[58]

Through its Future for Wildlife grants program, the zoo funds projects that directly contribute to the survival, health and welfare of free-living populations and ecosystems in the Pacific Northwest.[59] From 1998 to 2012 the zoo partnered on a recovery effort for endangered Oregon spotted frogs,[60] and currently collaborates on a head-start and release program for northern leopard frogs.[61] Thanks to a head-starting project that boosts turtle hatchling survival during their vulnerable first years, the zoo helped establish two new western pond turtle populations.[62] The zoo manages community-based conservation efforts, including the Non-Lead Hunting Education Program to protect wildlife from lead poisoning[63] and a community science project to monitor the American pika.[64] The Oregon Zoo was the first zoo in the world to successfully breed critically endangered Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits[65] and Oregon silverspot butterflies.[66]

In 2012, polar bear Tasul became the first of her species to allow a blood sample to be taken without the use of anesthesia,[67] leading to the development of a groundbreaking polar bear conservation science program. The zoo has since partnered with the U.S. Geological Survey on polar bear diet,[68] energetics,[69] and movement studies.[70]

In Borneo, the zoo supports elephant conservation by funding two ranger positions and partners with Malaysian and Indonesian organizations to mitigate human-wildlife conflict and improve animal welfare for elephants and orangutans.[71]

Incidents and controversies[edit]

The birth of Packy in 1962 began an elephant breeding program at the Oregon Zoo, resulting in a total of 28 elephant calves being born to date, of which seven were sired by Packy. Of these, however, 15 died prematurely and the whereabouts of two calves are unknown.[72] Some elephants such as Stoney,[73] Sabu, and Prince were sold to the circus, a few elephants such as Hanako and Dino were loaned to other zoos, whereas Emma and Teak were sold to private buyers.

On July 4, 1970, three men broke into the zoo at night. One of the three was killed by the zoo's two lions while he was showing off by lowering himself over the lion pit. The next night, one of the men broke into the zoo again and shot both of the zoo's lions.[74] The incident stirred a public outcry against the men, including the victim of the mauling.[75] The incident was followed by a surge in zoo attendance and a wave of donations to replace the lions.[76]

In April 2000, Rose-Tu, a female elephant born at the zoo, was severely abused by her handler, resulting in 176 lacerations including puncture wounds allegedly due to the handler attempting to shove a bullhook into her anus. It was speculated that the trauma suffered by her as a result of this experience may have compromised her ability to raise calves.[77] The handler was let off with a minimal sentence, the most severe punishment allowed by state laws at the time. As fallout from this incident, Animal Legal Defense Fund authored the Rose-Tu law, signed by Governor Kitzhaber in 2001.[78] The law made Oregon the first U.S. state to legally recognize the link between animal abuse and violence toward people, and increased the penalties for animal abuse.[79]

In December 2012, the baby elephant Lily was born to parents Rose-Tu and Tusko, a bull elephant on loan from Have Trunk Will Travel, a company that rents elephants. The Seattle Times brought to light a contract between the zoo and the company according to which the newborn calf Lily was owned by the company.[80] After widespread public outcry, the zoo raised funds to buy both Tusko and Lily for $400,000.[81]

In May 2014, the zoo dismissed then-director Kim Smith and lead veterinarian Mitch Finnegan over their lapses in established protocols around the death of Kutai, a 20-year-old orangutan, during a surgery. After staff complaints over the veterinarian's termination at Metro Council, he was rehired in July.[82] In June 2014, during the period of his absence, six tamarin monkeys died at the zoo. They were a family of nine rare primates to arrive from Harvard University. Pathology reports indicated the deaths as due to systemic shock.[83]

The animal welfare organization In Defense of Animals has rated Oregon Zoo on their Ten Worst Zoos for Elephants list for seven years.[84] The animal rights group "Free the Oregon Zoo Elephants" has been campaigning to end the zoo's captive breeding program and release the elephants to a sanctuary.[85]

Nearby attractions[edit]

The zoo is located at the southern boundary of Washington Park, which is also the home of Portland Children's Museum, World Forestry Center, Oregon Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and Hoyt Arboretum. An adjacent trail system connects the zoo to the International Rose Test Garden, the Portland Japanese Garden, and Forest Park.

Public access[edit]

Parking at the Oregon Zoo costs $2 per hour, to a maximum of $8 per day.[86] The Washington Park light rail station provides regional public transit access to the Oregon Zoo. Additionally, TriMet bus route 63-Washington Park, which runs seven days a week year-round, serves the zoo via Washington Park.[87]

See also[edit]


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