An awww-inspiring year: Lily the elephant turns 1

Oregon Zoo keepers celebrate "spitfire" who has energized herd and inspired visitors

She was born big — with an outsize personality to match — and she's had a big impact on the Oregon Zoo's world famous Asian elephant herd and zoo visitors alike. Lily, the zoo's youngest elephant, turns a year old on Nov. 30, keepers plan to mark the occasion by giving Lily her own cake.

The public is invited to watch her chow down on — or maybe roll around in — the extra-large confection this Saturday, Nov. 30, at 1 p.m.

Lily, born Nov. 30, was a hefty 300 pounds at birth and now weighs in at around 1,130 pounds. She has been described by zoo animal-care staff as a "spitfire," who has energized the rest of the herd and inspired visitors.

"She's definitely not shy," said Bob Lee, the zoo's elephant curator. "She competes with the bigger elephants for enrichment toys and treats. She doesn't just wait for her turn — she's right in there with the others being a true member of the herd. She likes all kinds of fruit — bananas, apples, melons."

In recent months, Lily's taste for fruit has allowed keepers to begin daily training sessions with the young elephant — encouraging her, through positive reinforcement, to participate in the routine checkups and veterinary tests needed for her healthcare.

Like most kids, keepers report, Lily likes to play — romping in the sand with big brother Samudra or splashing in the pool.

"Sometimes she'll splash into the pool and then bellow at the top of her lungs for Sam to come play with her," said Shawn Finnell, the zoo's senior elephant keeper. "She's not a quiet elephant."

And like most kids, Lily is very inquisitive.

"She's interested in everything around her," said Lee. "Especially the construction that's taking place outside her habitat."

In June, the zoo broke ground on Elephant Lands, a project that will quadruple the animals' space and dramatically enhance their experiences and daily routines. The new habitat is scheduled to open in 2015.

The Oregon Zoo is a service of Metro and is dedicated to its mission of inspiring the community to create a better future for wildlife. Committed to conservation, the zoo is currently working to save endangered California condors, Columbia Basin pygmy rabbits, Oregon silverspot and Taylor’s checkerspot butterflies, Western pond turtles and Oregon spotted frogs. Other projects include studies on black rhinos, Asian elephants, polar bears and bats.
The zoo relies in part on community support through donations to the Oregon Zoo Foundation to undertake these and many other animal welfare, education and sustainability programs. The zoo is located five minutes from downtown Portland, just off Highway 26 at exit 72. The zoo is also accessible by MAX light rail line. Visitors who travel to the zoo via MAX receive $1.50 off zoo admission. Find fare and route information online or by calling TriMet Customer Service at 503-238-RIDE (7433).
General zoo admission is $10.50 (ages 12-64), $9 for seniors (65 and up), $7.50 for children (ages 3-11) and free for those 2 and younger; 25 cents of the admission price helps fund regional conservation projects through the zoo’s Future for Wildlife program. A parking fee of $4 per car is also required. Additional information is available by calling 503-226-1561.

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Hova Najarian |