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Samson marks his birthday with a stroll, swim in Elephant Lands

May 4, 2018, 6:47 p.m.
Bull Asian elephant Samson eating in Elephant Lands.

Newest member of the zoo herd is 20 today and is beginning to explore his new home

Samson, the newest member of the Oregon Zoo elephant family, is having a big birthday. He celebrated his 20th year this morning with his first trip into Elephant Lands' south habitat — exploring the grounds, checking out some interactive feeders, and topping it off with an inaugural dip in the pool.

The birthday stroll took place while the rest of the herd was in another part of Elephant Lands, and before the zoo opened to visitors. Samson's been behind the scenes since arriving at the Oregon Zoo last month from ABQ BioPark Zoo in Albuquerque, N.M., acclimating to Elephant Lands and getting to know his keepers.

Everyone who's cared for the 8,000-pound pachyderm so far has remarked on his calm, easygoing demeanor.

"He's so good-natured," said Bob Lee, who oversees the Oregon Zoo's elephant area. "He's taken to our staff really quickly — his caregivers in Albuquerque did such a great job working with him."

The largest, tallest member of the elephant family, Samson is acclimating quickly to his new home. Keepers say he's very engaged and social, and he loves to relax and play with tractor tires, his favorite toy.

Samson has just begun to explore more of Elephant Lands, starting with Forest Hall earlier this week and moving on to the mud flats, hilly terrain and swimming pools of the South Habitat. After dipping a toe in to test the water, he splashed into the 160,000-gallon pool, snacking on birthday treats of apples and sweet potatoes and spraying water with his trunk.

"He's naturally very curious and confident," Lee said. "He's been quick to explore Elephant Lands and make himself right at home."

Samson will continue to stay behind the scenes most of the time, as caregivers gradually begin acquainting him with the other elephants, but visitors to the zoo might catch a glimpse of him in Forest Hall or the South Habitat as early as next week.

As if all of that excitement wasn't enough for a 20th birthday, Samson has one more thing to celebrate today: his third calf was born this morning in Albuquerque to ABQ BioPark's Rozie.

Samson was born May 4, 1998, at African Lion Safari in Ontario, Canada, and moved to ABQ BioPark in 2003. His transfer to Portland was recommended by the Species Survival Plan for Asian elephants, a cooperative program aimed at supporting socially stable families and maintaining a sustainable, genetically diverse elephant population at facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

The Oregon Zoo is recognized worldwide for its Asian elephant program, which has spanned more than 60 years. Considered highly endangered in their range countries, Asian elephants are threatened by habitat loss, conflict with humans and disease. It is estimated that just 40,000 to 50,000 elephants remain in fragmented populations from India to Borneo. The zoo supports a broad range of efforts to help wild elephants, and has established a $1 million endowment fund supporting Asian elephant conservation.