“The Roslyn Lake property is perfectly suitable for most needs, but specifically for elephants, it’s a challenge,” said Scott Robinson, deputy chief operating officer at Metro. “At a high level it looked wonderful, but as you dig down there are more and more challenges.”
Robinson said that the colder and wetter climate at Roslyn Lake, combined with the presence of standing water on the land much of the year and the fact that the elephants would have to be kept separate from the stream that flows through the property because of water contamination issues, made the site unsuitable for an off-site elephant habitat.
While the Roslyn Lake property won’t be the home of a future remote elephant center, a final decision regarding a future off-site elephant habitat has not been made.
Next week, a group of conservation, community and business leaders will convene as the Remote Elephant Center Task Force. The task force is charged with making a recommendation to Metro Council by the end of 2015.
“The most important primary job of the task force is to figure out whether we have a viable plan to operate an off-site elephant habitat,” said Martha Bennett, Metro’s chief operating officer. “They are also considering the role of the remote elephant center in the zoo’s mission. “
Bennett said that each of the eight task force members has some degree of experience with the zoo itself or with conservation issues.
“Nobody wants us to build a remote elephant center we can’t operate. That’s bad overall for the zoo and that’s bad for elephants,” Bennett said.
In 2008, 59 percent of voters supported a $125 million bond measure to make improvements at the Oregon Zoo by updating animal enclosures, modernizing the zoo’s animal clinic, increasing access to conservation education, and making changes to improve water quality and conserve water and energy on the zoo campus.
Measure 26-96 identified eight major projects: a new veterinary medical center, new habitats for California condors, Asian elephants, polar bears, primates and hippos (later changed to rhinos), a new education center and a new water filtration system for Humboldt penguins.
While the bond measure did not mention a remote elephant center, the Metro Council resolution passed the previous May that approved sending the bond measure to voters noted: “the zoo is exploring the feasibility of providing an off-site area for elephants. Funds are set aside for potential capital needs of off-site space.” The remote facility was mentioned during the bond measure campaign and caught the attention of many people across the region.
Kregg Hanson, former president and CEO of Banfield Pet Hospital, and former interim director of the Oregon Zoo Foundation is the chair of the newly formed task force.
“Our goal as a task force is to determine, in our opinion, if it is feasible to construct and operate an off-site facility for elephants,” Hanson said.
“We have a great group of people with expertise in a variety of areas,” Hansen said.
Bill Kabeiseman, attorney at Garvey Schubert, Barer and chair of the Oregon Zoo Bond Citizen’s Oversight Committee said he is glad the task force is being convened.
“We made a recommendation to Metro Council that they should make a decision about the remote elephant center with assistance from an independent task force and Metro Council took our recommendation seriously,” Kabeiseman said.
Construction of Elephant Lands at the Oregon Zoo – the fourth of eight major projects funded by a community-supported zoo bond measure in 2008 – is now in the homestretch with work expected to be complete later this year. The project reached a major turning point this spring with the completion of the new indoor facility and the north meadow portion of the habitat.
Although zoo visitors won’t get a good look at the entire Elephant Lands habitat until later this year, aerial photos have provided a stunning preview of what it will look like: a sweeping expanse that extends around the eastern edge of the zoo, from south of the central lawn north into the area formerly housing Elk Meadow.
Looking back at the zoo’s long history with elephants, Bob Lee, the zoo’s elephant curator, feels proud to work for an organization that has been so crucial to developing the science behind today’s elephant welfare practices.
“We’ve had successes and failures over the years,” Lee said. “And the great thing is that we have talked openly about both. We’ve shared all our experiences with other zoos and researchers, both the things we did well and the things we didn’t. It’s been so gratifying to be able to put all that collective knowledge into Elephant Lands, and now to watch it transform from designs on paper and artists’ renderings into actual physical reality.”