'Elephantastic' event offers sneak peek at new zoo

April 9, 2015 - 9:46am

Oregon Zoo's annual salute to pachyderms will preview soon-to-be-open Elephant Lands

Elephantastic, the Oregon Zoo's annual celebration of pachyderms, takes place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 25 — and this year's event offers visitors a rare elephant's-eye look at history in the making.

With work on the expansive new Elephant Lands entering the home stretch, visitors on April 25 can tour the soon-to-open North Habitat portion for an inside look at these new pachyderm stomping grounds before Lily, Samudra and the others move in next month.

Also open for Elephantastic: the new Elephant Plaza visitor area near the top of the concert lawn, where family-fun activity stations will offer more information on the new habitat, opportunities for visitors to take action on behalf of wild elephants, and hands-on educational activities for kids. The popular elephant ears are back — both the delicious fried treat variety and the decorative paper headbands sported by kids and adults alike.

Visitors will also be invited to create a painting to take home, in the style of the recently deceased elephant Rama, best known to zoo visitors for his sweet disposition and Jackson Pollock-like painting technique. Rama's artistic output was regularly on display at the zoo and was even exhibited at the famous Mark Woolley Gallery in Portland's Pearl District.

While regular visitor areas are fully accessible, tours inside the North Habitat may not be suitable for people with mobility challenges. The habitat is filled 4 to 5 feet deep with sand to cushion and protect elephants' feet, which have evolved to support their enormous weight over a variety of natural terrains.

"We've learned a lot about caring for elephants since the 1950s," said Bob Lee, the zoo's elephant curator. "And we're grateful for the chance to put all that knowledge into this new habitat, which is going to make the lives of all the elephants so much better."