Visiting Portland’s New Elephant Lands

The Oregon Zoo’s pachyderms have a new, bigger home.

By Marty Patail April 22, 2016 Published in the May 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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Elephant Lands residents Lily (foreground) and Sung-Surin

The elephants finally have a new home.

Unveiled this February, the Oregon Zoo’s sprawling, six-acre Elephant Lands replace the aging one-and-a-half-acre enclosure the zoo’s herd has inhabited since 1959. The design philosophy was wholly pachycentric: what would the elephants want? Places to hide, fields to graze 14 to 16 hours a day, areas to congregate, and, most, a wild, varied terrain for exercise.

“They’re out foraging constantly,” says elephant curator Bob Lee. “The young ones are spending a lot of time in the pool, even on cooler rainy days. It’s deep enough that they can porpoise in and out of the water. Samudra, the 7-year-old male, will fly down the hills.”

The new habitat is part of a broader shift in animal management: fewer species, larger habitats. To make room for the expanded Elephant Lands, the zoo had to send the wolves to Omaha, Nebraska. For the new rhino exhibit in 2020, they’ll have to lose the hippos. (The zoo’s polar bears and primates will also get new habitats, starting in 2019.)

“In the old days, it was about having two of everything,” Lee says. “Now it’s about building a connection to the wild. It’s all about conservation, not displaying animals.”

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