Thanks to you a better zoo

A changing philosophy is driving community-supported zoo improvements.

Every animal at the Oregon Zoo should have access to the outdoors, see the sky, breathe fresh air and experience wind, rain and sunshine. Every animal should be able to make choices about how he spends his day and with whom. Each animal should be able to live alone or in a family or social group appropriate to her species and gender, by choice, as she would in a wild habitat.

Oregon Zoo animal keepers have held this philosophy for a long time, but the old zoo facilities constrained them from providing animals with the autonomy and space they each prefer. When the zoo was built, keeping the animals clean and their exhibit spaces sterile was the highest priority. You can see that priority is evident in the old primate building, the old elephant barn and the polar bears exhibit where concrete floors with drains can be scrubbed and animals can be moved throughout the day with relative ease. But there's a better way...

Today, the Oregon Zoo is undergoing profound change. New construction, renovation and innovation focus on improving animal welfare, increasing sustainability and expanding opportunities for conservation education, turning the zoo's "no animal left indoors" philosophy into reality. Phase one of these changes is funded by the current community-supported bond.

New habitats and facilities focus on animal welfare and care

The new Veterinary Medical Center was the first major bond-funded project completed, opened in January, 2012. A new penguin water filtration system began operation in 2012. Endangered California condors made their zoo debut in a brand new habitat opened in 2014. Elephant Lands opened in December 2015, setting an entirely new standard for elephant care. Over the next few years, expect to see new expanded and enticing habitats for polar bears, primates and rhinos.

Each new habitat is larger, made from natural materials and open to the air and sky, with sheltered areas for colder seasons. Flooring is natural soil, grass or other porous well-drained material. Animals are able to see outside of their habitats to adjacent exhibits, visitors and other parts of the zoo. Each habitat affords flexibility to accommodate mating, pregnancy, mothers with babies, and a variety of social groupings of each species. Some animals prefer to live fairly solitary lives, some in pairs and some animals live in large groups of aunties, grandmothers, sisters and babies. Each new habitat accommodates these preferences with stimulating, intriguing environments providing animals with daily opportunities for discovery, play and problem solving.

The importance of a master plan

Learn why an excellent master plan is so important for the future of the zoo. See the progress made so far and stay up to date on what happens next.

Sustainability improvements

A green zoo begins with blue water. Learn how the Oregon Zoo built its master plan around water and energy improvements that are making the new zoo a model of sustainable conservation.

Veterinary Medical Center

Learn about the Veterinary Medical Center, designed for animal healing and care and the first major bond-funded project completed.

Making the most of every dime, drop and kilowatt

The zoo's primary mission is inspiring the community to create a better future for wildlife. What better way to do so than to model for visitors on the zoo grounds sustainable ways of reusing water, managing waste and conserving energy? Wisely using resources reduces impacts on wildlife and habitat around the world. The Oregon Zoo has faced challenges in modeling best practices because of outdated facilities. Some of the zoo's plumbing and wiring was installed when the zoo was built in the late 1950s. With each zoo improvement, sustainability is woven into every pool, pathway and parking space. The zoo already composts animal and food waste and uses water conservatively. All new eligible buildings and facilities are achieving LEED silver certification or better by conserving energy and water and using natural light and natural ventilation. The new Veterinary Medical Center is a shining example, channeling natural light into work areas and animal enclosures and recycling harvested rainwater. And the new water system in the Penguinarium is saving six million gallons each year!

The perfect setting to learn about nature

Each of the zoo's new animal habitats tells the story of the animal's current conservation status, providing guidance for visitors on how to take practical, meaningful actions that will help secure a better future for these species and their native habitats. The Oregon Zoo Education Center, under construction now and opening in 2017, will expand these learning opportunities, focusing on small actions we can each take in our daily lives.

In the center's Nature Exploration Station (the NESt), zoo visitors will learn about the critical roles played by some of the earth's tiniest inhabitants. Here in the new insect zoo, they'll enter the world of the most numerous, diverse creatures on the planet and get a close up view of amazing arthropods. In the conservation lab, visitors will learn about the zoo's work to restore populations of butterflies and pond turtles. Also in the NESt, visitors will find guidance on how to discover nature in their own backyards and nearby natural areas.

Through its camps, classes and lectures the zoo shares animal knowledge and conservation ethics with thousands of children and adults every year. The new education center provides the perfect home for these programs and the gear and vehicles that support them. The center will outfit students for their zoo adventures while offering conservation educators from around the region a place to reach thousands of zoo visitors with new information and programs.  

PDF icon Zoo master plan map