Testing the waters at Oregon Zoo's Elephant Lands

December 10, 2014 - 10:13am

Zoo is set for big splash in 2015 as new pool for pachyderms passes its first test

On Nov. 25 and 26, workers filled the pool to its high-water mark, then monitored levels over the four-day Thanksgiving weekend to make sure the pool was water-tight. As a control, they also filled a 55-gallon drum nearby to account for evaporation and rainfall during the course of the test.

The pool — 80 feet wide and 12 feet deep — will be located near Elephant Plaza, a new greeting area that will introduce visitors to the Elephant Lands habitat. Among its notable features are a gently sloping entry point for the elephants and an adjustable water level.

Most of the time, water in the pool will be around 12 feet deep, according to zoo construction manager Jim Mitchell — enough for even the tallest bull elephant, like Packy, to completely submerge. But when necessary — if the herd were raising a baby, say — the level could be adjusted to ensure a little one's safety.

The pool is also incorporating state-of-the-art filtration and water-treatment systems and a play jet that sprays bursts of water, controlled remotely from a keeper presentation area.

Now that the foundation has been deemed waterproof, crews have started adding a textured layer on top, giving the pool a more naturalistic feel as well as providing better traction.

Elephant Lands — the fourth of eight major projects funded by a community-supported 2008 bond measure — is a sweeping expansion of the zoo's Asian elephant habitat that will quadruple the animals' space and dramatically enhance their daily experiences. Work on the new habitat — which has been carefully sequenced to gradually expand the elephants' accessible space in phases — will be completed in the fall of 2015.