For nearly 135 years, the Oregon Zoo has offered local residents and visitors from around world a chance to connect with wildlife. Along the way, it has evolved into a hub for the science of animal well-being and an internationally recognized conservation leader. It is helping to save all kinds of endangered species, from California condors to northwestern pond turtles. It has also generated a tremendous amount of community pride and support. In 2008, people across the region acted on behalf of animals and sustainability with an overwhelming vote to invest in the zoo.
“The 2008 bond measure was transformative,” said Oregon Zoo director Heidi Rahn. “It provided for a dramatic overhaul to some of our most popular animal habitats, plus a state-of-the-art veterinary medical center, and much more. I was fortunate enough to oversee the zoo’s bond implementation from 2013 on, and seeing the difference now — all those blueprints brought to life — is incredible. We came together as a community to benefit the animals and the environment.”
All told, the bond reshaped nearly 40% of the zoo campus — an impact enjoyed by millions of visitors. But while zoo leaders celebrate what has been achieved through the community’s support, they’re also looking to the future. Habitats in other sections of the zoo still date to the late 1950s and may not be able to keep pace with changing standards. There also are accessibility challenges and aging infrastructure.
“We have a lot to be proud of,” Rahn said. “But at the same time, we know there is much more we can do — for our animals, for our guests and for our environment.”
All of that will be reflected in a new campus plan that will help shape the next era of animal care, guest accessibility and resource conservation at the zoo. Focusing on areas not improved through the 2008 bond, the plan proposes updating some of the zoo’s oldest animal areas, improving accessibility and amenities for guests of all ages and abilities, and ensuring the zoo does its part to both mitigate and respond to a changing climate.
“Our aim with this plan is to create a physical manifestation of our mission — a tangible representation of who we are,” Rahn said. “We want to create connections, spark interests and foster relationships that will benefit not just our region but the world.”
The plan’s priorities emerged through a nearly yearlong engagement process involving zoo guests, staff members, community groups, experts in animal care and conservation, Parks and nature news and other stakeholders. The Metro Council provided additional input during a September work session at the zoo, and unanimously approved a resolution to accept the draft plan concepts in late October. Since implementing this new vision would require significant investment, Councilors also directed staff to look into possible financing opportunities and recognized an opportunity for the public to renew its commitment.
“When I’ve visited other zoos, you can’t walk five steps without stepping on a brick that’s sponsored or labeled or branded,” Councilor Christine Lewis said. “I think something special about the Oregon Zoo is that we have made a public commitment to funding it for the members and residents of our region, for visitors, without that kind of reliance. I’m really excited to continue on that path as we are looking to the future.”
With the Metro Council’s support, the zoo will continue refining the campus plan for adoption in spring 2024.