History

The Oregon Zoo: it all began with a "she-grizzly." A native of England, Richard Knight had moved to Portland in 1882 and set up shop as a pharmacist near the docks along the Willamette River. Knight's pharmacy gained a reputation as a place where sailors could relieve themselves of animals they'd acquired on their travels. Parakeets, monkeys and other small animals formed a menagerie of orphans in the back of Knight's pharmacy. Two bears – one a grizzly – were staked in a vacant lot next door.

By 1888, the care of a business, four young children, and perhaps an increasingly exasperated wife prompted Knight to write to the mayor of Portland:

"I have ... for sale two bears, one young male brown, and a she grizzly, which latter is said to be with cub. They are gentle, easily cared for, and cost but a trifle to keep, and knowing they would prove a great source of attraction to the city park, would like an offer for them before sending elsewhere."

Perhaps doubting some of those assertions, the city countered with an offer of two circus cages, which Knight would be allowed to place on the grounds of City Park (now Washington Park). He did that, setting them not far from the park entrance at today's NW 24th Place and West Burnside Street. Care and feeding of the bears, however, remained with the Knight family and friends.

It wasn't long before Knight came back to mayor, this time with a slightly enhanced offer: an outright gift of the grizzly (the fate of the other bear is unknown). Portland City Council accepted the offer on November 7, 1888. The Portland Zoo – now the Oregon Zoo – was born.

From one "she grizzly" to a world-class center for wildlife preservation and field research, the zoo's 124-year journey has seen vast leaps in zoological knowledge and animal enrichment, and an increasing focus on sustainable operations, wildlife education and conservation. The zoo is proud of how far it has come:

  • 1.6 million people visit each year.
  • 700,000 people, from preschoolers to retirees, learn about the behavior and needs of wildlife through a host of educational programs.
  • Animal enrichment and naturalistic settings are a top priority.
  • Low-impact facilities and systems are replacing resource-intensive operations.
  • Keepers, veterinarians and researchers contribute to the global body of knowledge on animal care and wildlife conservation.
  • 1,500 zoo volunteers annually give 117,000 hours of service.

Zoo Timeline

1880s
Portland pharmacist Richard Knight collects animals from seafaring friends.

1888
The Portland Zoo is born, from Knight's menagerie. Charles Myers becomes the first zookeeper.

1894
The number of animals grows to 300, mostly from North America.

1905
The zoo begins a period of decline that continues until after World War II.

1917
Richard Knight dies.

1925
The zoo moves from the hillside above West Burnside Street to a more remote, higher part of Washington Park (the Portland Japanese Garden now occupies some of that site).

1951
Portland City Club recommends a new zoo. Portland City Council places a $3.85 million bond measure on the ballot to finance construction of a new zoo facility on a 40-acre site, part of the West Hills Golf Course in Washington Park.

1953
The zoo receives its first Asian elephant, Rosy, courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Austin Fleg, Portlanders living in Thailand.

1954
The ballot measure to finance construction of the new zoo passes.

1959
The newly named Portland Zoological Gardens open. Only 60 percent of the original plan is complete due to construction costs and weather delays. The zoo railway, included in the original bond measure, is completed with donations of time, money and materials.

1962
Following penguin expeditions led by director Jack Marks, the first penguin exhibit opens.

1962
Packy is born, the first elephant born in the United States in 44 years. Annual attendance exceeds one million.

1963
The Children's Zoo opens with domesticated animals, boat rides, a merry-go-round, and the "Mole Hole," an underground tunnel with burrowing animals on exhibit.

1960s
Naturalistic exhibits are not yet a concept. "Modern" zoos mean bold colors and asymmetric structures.

1971
Portland Zoological Society assumes zoo management, with funding continuing from the City of Portland.

1975
The zoo's volunteer program begins.

1976
The Oregon legislature places the zoo under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Service District (now Metro), the Portland area regional government. Voters approve a five-year, $10 million levy for operating and capital expenses. The zoo is renamed the Washington Park Zoo.

1980
Voters approve a three-year $15 million serial levy. A remodel provides larger outdoor areas for Asian elephants and state-of-the-art handling facilities. The primate house is remodeled. The first Humboldt penguin egg hatches at the zoo.

1982
Cascade Stream and Pond exhibit opens, constructed with private funds. It wins the top exhibit award from the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums.

1983
A completely remodeled Penguinarium opens.

1985
Alaska Tundra, another major exhibit, opens (now the site of Predators of the Serengeti).

1986
The west bear grottos are renovated and the Polar Bears and Sun Bears exhibits open. The Lilah Callen Holden Elephant Museum opens, constructed with private funds.

1988
Africa Aviary and AfriCafe open along with a terraced concert lawn. The first ZooLights is held, thanks to volunteer efforts from making displays to staffing the event. Annual attendance exceeds one million for the second time in zoo history.

1989
Africa exhibit opens.

1990
Voters approve a $5.1 million permanent tax base for zoo operating support. The zoo begins to develop a long-range plan.

1991
Africa Rainforest opens. Annual attendance reaches 1.16 million.

1993
Elk Meadow exhibit opens. The zoo hosts the first conference on environmental enrichment for zoo animals.

1994
Center for Species Survival opens.

1996
Voters approve a bond measure to construct the Great Northwest exhibit and a new entry village.

1998
The zoo is renamed the Oregon Zoo to better reflect its location and emphasis on native wildlife. A new entrance and the first phase of the Great Northwest exhibit, Cascade Crest, opens to the public.

1999
Lorikeet Landing and Amur Leopard exhibits open.

2000
Steller Cove, a marine life habitat exhibit, opens.

2001
Amazon Flooded Forest exhibit opens. The zoo becomes a member of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service California Condor Recovery Program.

2002
The zoo launches Future for Wildlife. This conservation program begins breeding endangered Washington pygmy rabbits, western pond turtles, and Oregon silverspot butterflies for eventual reintroduction into the wild.

2003
Condors arrive to a breeding facility in rural Clackamas County.

2004
Eagle Canyon exhibit opens. Trillium Creek Family Farm opens, the first U.S. zoo exhibit run exclusively by teenage volunteers.

2005
The Oregon Zoo's first-born condor chick is released into the wild at Pinnacles National Monument in California.

2006
Cougar Crossing exhibit opens.

2007
Zoo visitors pay an admission surcharge to support conservation programs in the Northwest. Black Bear Ridge exhibit opens, completing the Great Northwest section. Washington pygmy rabbits from the zoo's breeding program are released into the wild for the first time.

2008
Voters across the Portland metropolitan region approve a $125 million bond measure for zoo improvements. The zoo begins development of a master plan, six new animal exhibits, a conservation education center and a veterinary medical center.

2009
Predators of the Serengeti opens, bringing lions, cheetahs, wild dogs and other African predators to the zoo.

2010
Red Ape Reserve opens, offering unprecedented views of orangutans and white-cheeked gibbons together in an indoor-outdoor enclosure.

2011
Metro Council approves the zoo's 20-year master plan.

2012
The Veterinary Medical Center opens, marking the first large project funded in large part by the 2008 bond measure. Asian elephant Packy turns 50 on April 14.