Activity stations near key construction sites will preview future Elephant Lands
Elephantastic, the Oregon Zoo's annual salute to pachyderms, takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 12 — and this year's event offers a chance to see history in the making.
With work on the expansive Elephant Lands habitat in full swing — and much of the zoo's eastern side a construction zone — the zoo is taking the occasion to showcase what lies ahead for Portland's famous elephant family. Activity stations alongside key construction zones will offer a sneak peek at the new zoo as well as hands-on activities themed to teach kids about elephants:
- Across from the Family Farm, near the site of Elephant Lands' future North Meadow area, visitors can design their own elephant habitat and learn more about the 96 Elephants campaign to combat the illegal ivory trade.
- Just past Red Ape Reserve, where a 160,000-gallon pool for pachyderms will be located, kids can learn how elephants interact with water at a hands-on splash station.
- And close to the recently completed Encounter Habitat, kids can play with sand and learn more about the special elephant-approved variety being used throughout Elephant Lands.
After receiving a stamp at each station, visitors can proceed to the zoo's Kalahari Room for a free slice of cake courtesy of Lamb's Wilsonville Market.
A donation to the Oregon Zoo Foundation's Campaign for Elephants promises to make Packy and his family's new digs even more "elephantastic."
Elephantastic, free with zoo admission, is held each year on or near Packy's birthday. Due to construction scheduling, Packy himself won't be on view during Saturday's festivities. His current hangout — in the east sand yard near what will soon be Forest Hall — is visible only from hardhat areas.
Packy won't miss out on his annual birthday cake though. Keepers plan to present the six-ton senior citizen with a 40-pound whole-wheat concoction — frosted and topped with carrots, bananas, apples and sweet potatoes — on Monday, April 14, when the celebrated pachyderm turns 52.
"Packy's an elder statesman now," said Bob Lee, elephant curator. "He's the oldest male Asian elephant on the continent, and he really started it all — the focus on elephant welfare, the knowledge about elephants. We've learned so much about this species since he was born, and we're grateful for the chance to put all that knowledge into this new habitat."
Elephant Lands — a sweeping expansion of the Asian elephant habitat that will quadruple the elephants' space and dramatically enhance their daily experiences — broke ground last June. The entire habitat, which will be four times larger than the current one, will be completed in the fall of 2015.
To keep the herd comfortable during this time, animal-care staff and construction managers devised a plan to gradually expand the elephants' accessible space in phases. The project reached a big milestone in late February as crews completed work on what's now known as the Encounter Habitat — a sandy field in the southern portion of the habitat, adjacent to the zoo concert lawn.
Lee said the elephant family has been acclimating well to the new area, and visitors may catch glimpses of them there on Saturday through construction barriers or from the upstairs patio at AfriCafe. Packy has yet to explore the Encounter Habitat, Lee says, though it's not for a lack of opportunity.
"We've been enticing him out the back of the indoor area with bananas and some of his other favorite treats, but so far he's only ventured out a couple of steps," Lee said. "That's just his nature. Other elephants, like Tusko and Samudra, are much more adventurous and love to explore new things, but Packy thrives on the familiar."