As I was writing about my trip to San Diego and got to the part about the awesome San Diego Zoo, I realized I haven’t written about our wonderful zoo in Portland! Shocked, I got right to it!
The Oregon Zoo has been a favorite of children and adults for generations and has been a beacon of help for many wild animals in our area that have been in need of rehabilitation. They have been in operation for 125 years in fact! As of 2012 our zoo housed 1,955 individual animals representing 232 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates, of which 22 are endangered species and 37 are threatened species. The 64 acres the zoo sits atop is broken up by region similar to other zoos, but I would argue one of the best regions is that representing our state!
The Great Northwest
This “region” at the zoo is wonderful! It teaches folks all about the animals in our area, ranging from the fish that swim in our streams and rivers, the cougars that roam our hills, the black bears that forage our forests and the condors that patrol the skies. You wind through one of our native forests as you look at animals in habitats that are similar to where they would exist in the wild. This exhibit is one of the first you will see as you come through the front gates of the zoo. You will find various birds here as well, including bald eagles that were rescued from the wild and were unable to return due to their injuries. Turkey Vultures are also an interesting bird to have a look at. These important foragers migrate from Mexico up to the Northwest and we have seen them flying in the wild over our Oregon Coast. You will also get to see our river otters. It seems like every year we have new river otter pups born and it is fun to see them out in the habitat starting their ‘otter lessons’. On hot days, this region is one of the shadier spots and feels cooler than many of the other areas of the zoo, so we like to hang out here!
As you continue down the Northwest Trail, you will come to the Family Farm where folks can learn about different animals and will have the opportunity to pet several. The goats are always a big hit, you will see the chickens pecking and clucking and ducks swimming and quacking. There is a non-functional old John Deere sitting out in front of the barns that is a huge favorite for the kids to climb all over and big tires to jump on!
Continuing on you will come to Pacific Shores, which is now home to Harbor Seals and sea otters. Before the Harbor Seals we had 2 Stellar Sea Lions to watch. There is a nice exhibit near the Harbor Seals that talks about studying sea life and the things we can do to help all sea life thrive.You will find the polar bears and the penguins in this area even though you will not find them on our actual pacific shores. The polar bears have been sharing their exhibit with other animals for the past couple of years while construction and maintenance has been taking place. They seem pretty sad these days but have been at our zoo for as long as I can remember. They definitely prefer cooler days and we find they are far more active when it is raining. In Pacific Shores you will also find a sand box for littles to play in under the big boardwalk and there is a food cart right in this area too where you can pick up snacks. There is a little geyser right in front of the sand area that goes off every few minutes and is fun for kids, as well as a tank for sea life you can find in our rocky shores.
Just down the walk is where you can pick up the Zoo Train. This has been closed for the construction projects lately and is being rerouted, but the zoo is planning to reopen this in May 2016 (based on what I saw yesterday though, we aren’t quite there)! Yeah! This is a favorite for families and in the past has given a different point of view into animal enclosures. On hot days the breeze can be refreshing as the train chugs through Washington Park and the zoo. On rainy days it will keep you relatively dry, but the cabins are open, so keep that in mind. There are two different engines in operation – a diesel engine (pictured above) and a steam engine (see link above). You can often pick which train you prefer to ride on. Both are great!
Portland has a love affair with our elephants and all Portlanders want the best for our little elephant family, especially as we have seen 2 baby elephants born in the last 10 years –Samudra (pictured left, born in 2008) is the big brother to Lily (who was born 2012). Packy is our most famous and beloved elephant (outside of the babies) and his 54th birthday was just celebrated at the zoo. He is celebrated every year, with a big party and he gets a special cake! He is our oldest elephant (and from what I read the oldest male elephant in captivity) – born in 1962 he was the first elephant born in the western hemisphere in 44 years. He has since added to the population and has 7 children, including Sung-Surin who is still at the Oregon Zoo. Last Fall the zoo opened the brand new Elephant Lands exhibit, which gave the exhibit from the 1960s a complete overhaul and our elephants now have a lot more land to roam, a place to swim, time release feeders and more. This money came from a ballot that Portland residents passed in 2008 giving the zoo $125 million to spend on zoo improvements. In addition to Elephant Lands, this money has also gone towards a state of the art veterinary center and the new Education Center as well as improvements to many of the guest areas. Talk about putting our money where our heart is!
After Elephant Lands, Africa is probably our second favorite area to spend time at the zoo. It might be our love of big cats. It might be that the baby lions share a birthday with my son. It might be the stationary Land Rover with steering wheel parked in the exhibit that all the kids fight over. Who knows. I do know that I love the Painted Dogs. I love the cheetahs. I love the caracals. I love the heart spot on one of the giraffes bums. It is all good!
The Africa exhibit is broken up into different regions (Africa is a big place after all!). They have animals from the African Rain-forest, the Savanna, and the Serengeti. There is also a Rain-forest aviary attached to the restaurant at the start of the Africa Exhibits. There are so many animals here you can spend a good part of your visit just in this section. Flamingos, hippos, rhinos, giraffes, and one of our absolute favorite exhibits is the naked mole rats. We love watching them work in their colony, running through their tunnels, looking for food, and snuggling up with each other for warmth. There are several reptiles and amphibians as well, like the African Bullfrog and the slender-snouted crocodile. We also really love the fruit bat exhibit and recommend looking at that.
The zoo has several species of primates originating in Asia, Africa, and South America. Many of these can be seen in the Primate Forest area.
The African species you will see at our zoo include Allen’s Swamp Monkeys, Colobus Monkeys, and De Brazza Monkeys. They can be very active and interesting to watch swing around and playing. The chimpanzee is the most threatened primate in Africa, and we have a 4 that have called our zoo home for years. They can be quite interesting to watch when they are active, but are getting up there in age and have slowed down a bit. We also have 4 mandrills that are at home in our zoo as well.
The Primate Forest is also home to several reptiles and there is the Bear Walk Cafe if you need a snack or restrooms, which is right across from the lovely Malayan Sun Bear, the Visayan Warty Pig and the classrooms.
Our Zoo is great year round, even in the rain, but certain times of year there are special events for the public that you just can’t miss! In the winter many families have the tradition of going to Zoo Lights over the winter holidays. In fact it is so popular that each year over the last 5 year more than 1.5 million people have come to see them, and we have one of the best light displays in the nation. The entire zoo is decked out in over 1.6 million LED lights and the team works year round to create the designs the visitors marvel at. They add to the exhibit every year and it really is a sight to behold. The train ride is great because you get to see extra things, and walking through the zoo will leave you in awe. The designs are generally animal inspired, but we have also seen the Wizard of Oz represented and a few other fun things. Some of the displays are even animated! My best advice is to get there early and head straight for the train ride. After that, head to one of the food carts for a hot cocoa and then have a walk around the grounds. This event usually starts in late November and runs through the first part of January.
Another really popular seasonal event is the Summer Concert Series at the Zoo. In 1979 the Oregon Zoo was the first zoo to introduce a concert series on the zoo grounds and it has taken off from there! The concerts are held on the main stage and folks sit in the grassy area on blankets. We took our son to his first concert here to see Weird Al Yankovik last summer and it was such a blast. The other great things about taking kids is that concerts tend to end a bit earlier because they start a little bit earlier. So far they have 9 concerts scheduled for the 2016 summer series with more concerts in the works (they usually have 15 or so). Big names like Phillip Phillips, Fitz and the Tantrums, Chicago and UB40 are coming to play this summer (2016). It is an awesome venue and the perfect place to spend some time on summer nights.
One last event I like to recommend are the Summer Camps for kids. My son did a week long camp here 2 summers ago and he enjoyed it. There are several weeks and camps to chose from for kids of all ages and they are incredibly popular!