Rhino habitat

Learn about changes to the hippopotamus and rhinoceros exhibits, and plans for a future Africa savanna habitat.

From hippos to rhinos

To keep the animals healthy, hippo keepers dump and refill the hippo pool several times a week. That means pouring millions of gallons of water down the drain every year. The zoo wanted to do better than that. So, the zoo bond measure called for improvements to the hippo exhibit, primarily installation of a water-saving filtration system.

The intent was to filter and recycle the hippo pool water. As part of the master planning process, the zoo analyzed energy use across the entire zoo campus and found that running pumps and filtering systems uses the most power by far. So the zoo was about to save water by installing a system that would use a lot of energy. That doesn't fit with zoo and Metro sustainability goals or help the Oregon Zoo become the greenest zoo in the country.

That's when keepers, managers and designers started talking about rhinos.

Black rhinos are seriously endangered in the wild. In their native habitat in southern and eastern Africa, a population of 70,000 animals has, over the past 50 years, been reduced to about 3,610 animals. The Oregon Zoo recently acquired a new female black rhino, Zuri, and would like to acquire more for breeding.

Rhinos don't require pools, so there are no issues with water use or filtration and rhinos are better suited to the zoo's long-term plan. Within the next 20 years, the zoo's new master plan calls for construction of an African savanna habitat shared by a number of large grassland species. Rhinos can share habitat with gazelles and giraffes; hippos are more aggressive and could not be included in a shared habitat.

To help make this decision, zoo officials asked zoo fans to weigh in. Participants in March and April master plan public open houses provided feedback to a series of questions. Residents of the region who responded to the Oregon Zoo Opt In survey in May also considered the options. In both cases, a majority of respondents agreed that the rhino habitat should be expanded to replace the hippo exhibit.

This will not happen for a while. When the zoo is ready to start construction on this project, the zoo's hippos will head to a new home in another zoo. Their pool will be decommissioned and their space opened up for rhino use. The expanded rhino habitat will eventually become part of a much larger multi-species savanna habitat.