Zoo marks another big milestone for Elephant Lands

June 4, 2015 - 3:30pm

Pachyderms take first steps in newly completed north section of habitat

With construction on Elephant Lands, the Oregon Zoo's expansive new home for elephants, now in the homestretch, the milestones just keep coming.

Last month, Portland's famous elephant family moved into Forest Hall and the indoor portions of the habitat. This morning, the herd took another big step into history, venturing into the northernmost section of Elephant Lands for the first time.

"They seemed at home almost immediately."

—Shawn Finnell, senior elephant keeper

At a little after 10 a.m., keepers escorted the female herd along a walkway from Forest Hall leading to an entirely new vista: a wide, hilly terrain stretching north to the zoo's veterinary medical center and Family Farm.

Shawn Finnell, the zoo's senior elephant keeper, said Shine was the first to venture all the way in, scooping up sweet potatoes and apples as she went. And 2-year-old Lily was predictably rambunctious, scooting atop rocks, climbing onto giant logs and stretching her trunk upward to try to reach a boom suspending food high in the air.

"It was amazing to watch," Finnell said. "They seemed at home almost immediately. Chendra hesitated a bit before walking in, but once they stepped through the gate, they all moved with complete confidence."

A viewing area, accessible via the new Elephant Plaza visitor center, should open within a week or two, Finnell said. In the meantime, the elephant family will have a high-profile settling-in period: Visitors strolling up and down the zoo boardwalk or along the pathway near the Family Farm, should be able to spot the herd from time to time, especially when they're in the northernmost portion.

“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. This is going to be huge.”