Walls come down as zoo sets stage for new Polar Passage


Zoo is in the homestretch of projects funded by a community-supported bond measure

At 1,200 psi, polar bears have one of the most powerful bites in the animal world, but some even stronger chomping took place at the Oregon Zoo this morning: A huge "concrete-eating" excavator with dinosaur-like jaws devoured the last section of wall at the zoo's former polar bear area, clearing the way for Polar Passage, a brand-new habitat set to open in 2020.

The chomping was part of a "demolition party" to celebrate the homestretch of a 10-year-long zoo makeover — replacing outdated facilities with new expansive and stimulating habitats, increasing access to education and improving sustainability.

Polar Passage is one of eight major projects made possible by the community-supported zoo bond measure passed in 2008 and generous contributions from private donors. With five of those projects now complete, the final three — new habitats for polar bears and primates, and an improved habitat for rhinos — will be managed as a single construction project.

"They are all three right here in the middle of the zoo and they're under construction as a single project so we can be most efficient with time and construction costs," said zoo director Dr. Don Moore. "First, we're removing some of our oldest and most antiquated facilities — and we're pretty excited about that."

When the three projects are complete in 2020, around 40 percent of the zoo will have a new look.

At Polar Passage, polar bears will roam over rolling meadows and rock outcrops, and plunge into saltwater pools. Visitors can come eye to eye with the bears and witness conservation science in the making, as keepers demonstrate the zoo's work collecting critical data for scientists in the Arctic.

As construction continues, the zoo's old primate building will be demolished and replaced with a large, adaptable multi-level habitat for an expanded family of chimps. Chimps will have more choices about who they hang out with plus stimulating activities that change every day. Large viewing windows will bring visitors within inches of these highly intelligent and socially complex great apes and learn about meaningful actions they can take to conserve their wild habitats.

The third project is an expansion of the zoo's rhino habitat, which will also encompass the former hippo area. The new design will provide more space, better viewing and opportunities to support cooperative breeding efforts aimed at recovering some of the most endangered mammals on the planet.

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

Kelsey Wallace | 503-220-5754 | kelsey.wallace@oregonzoo.org