Winter at the zoo: New hours, cubs trek out, pup swims

Elephant Lands construction pushes ahead, with work set to begin on South Habitat

As the Oregon Zoo switches to winter hours this month, visitors will be treated to some new baby-viewing opportunities plus a chance to see history in the making with the construction of Elephant Lands.

Starting Monday, Jan. 6, the zoo's gates will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., with grounds open until 5 p.m. Visitors arriving early are encouraged to beeline for the zoo's Cascade Stream and Pond habitat for a possible sighting of an otter pup swim lesson.

Tilly, a North American river otter, has begun taking her 8-week-old pup, Ziggy, into the water on a daily basis, keepers say.

"Otter pups learn to swim from their mothers, and the best times to watch Ziggy take his first dips are between gate opening and noon," said Julie Christie, senior keeper for the zoo's North America area. "By the end of the month he'll be swimming on his own."

The three lion cubs born at the zoo last September — Kamali, Zalika and Angalia — will also be spending more time outdoors now that they're adolescents, keepers say. Best bets for watching the triplets play with mom Neka in their Predators of the Serengeti habitat are dry days when the temperature is above 40 degrees.

January also marks a major milestone in the construction of Elephant Lands, the expansive new habitat for the zoo's family of Asian elephants. On Jan. 22, crews are scheduled to begin work on the South Habitat section of Elephant Lands — a swath of mogul-like hills stretching to the zoo's southern and eastern boundaries. Lily, Packy and the rest of the herd can still be seen during this time, as can some elephant-scale construction equipment, highlighted by a 30-ton excavator.

In late February, the elephants will begin moving into the new South Habitat, and visitors will be able see them in these new digs by early March.

"We're in the middle of the biggest project this zoo has undertaken in 50 years," said Craig Stroud, the zoo's deputy director of operations. "Visitors this winter can see history take place and watch the making of an exhibit that will set a new standard for elephant care. The construction activities are fascinating to watch, and visitors often stop to observe the huge equipment and construction personnel building the new exhibit."

To keep the herd comfortable during the building of Elephant Lands, animal-care staff and construction managers devised a Tetris-like phasing plan to gradually expand the elephants' accessible space. The entire habitat — which will be four times larger than the current one — will be completed in summer of 2015.

Next to elephants, the Island Pigs of Asia exhibit will temporarily close from late January to March as crews make utility upgrades.

Portland Parks and Recreation's new Pay to Park system begins Jan. 10, and will be used by visitors to all the park's attractions, including the zoo, Portland Children's Museum, International Rose Test Garden and others. Learn more. 

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.

Media contact: 

Hova Najarian | 503-220-5714 | hova.najarian@oregonzoo.org