The future of the Oregon Zoo will be shaped by the Portland public

Metro will put a new 15 year, $380 million bond in front of voters this May.

A rendering shows a potential design for a future penguin enclosure outside. The penguins stand around a spacious outdoor enclosure surrounded by trees and observers.

If you’ve visited the penguins at Oregon Zoo, you know that everyone could benefit from some fresh air.

Rendering via Oregon Zoo

When the Oregon Zoo lost power during the recent winter storms, staff were able to keep animals safe thanks to emergency generators, funded by a $125 million voter-approved bond in 2008.

Soon, the Portland public will again be asked to show their support for the state’s most-visited ticketed attraction, with approx. 1.5 million guests per year, beyond just keeping the lights on.

At its core, the Oregon Zoo is committed to animal conservation and well-being, education, and sustainability, here in the Pacific Northwest and abroad. Nearly 40% of its 64 acres has undergone dramatic changes over the past decade thanks to past community investment, including the construction of a veterinary center and expanded classrooms, plus enclosure upgrades for the chimpanzees, polar bears, elephants, condors, and other species.

Now, Metro will put the next phase of upgrades in front of voters in the May election. According to officials, the proposed 15 year, $380 million bond would not increase current tax rates of 8.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value — about $3.54 per month for the owner of a $500,000 home.

Priority investments would include water and energy saving systems and steps toward transitioning to a fossil fuel-free campus. Climate resilience and accessibility improvements are also on the docket.

A curious sea otter at the Oregon Zoo nuzzles close to the camera, its whiskers arcing from its face and dripping with water.

Whatever the future sea otter enclosure looks like, we hope it has a full basketball court.

Photo via Oregon Zoo

Perhaps the most visible impacts for visitors would be the overhaul of several of the zoo’s oldest habitats; the penguin and sea otter areas date back to the 1950s, and the Africa section (especially the giraffe enclosure) would be another emphasis.

If the measure passes, the Oregon Zoo will put together a more detailed implementation plan outlining specific timing for its various projects by this fall.