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Elephants pack trunks for Roslyn Lake

Sandy residents should get used to the idea of having elephants in their backyard.

The Metro Council gave unanimous approval at Tuesday afternoon’s meeting for the nearly $1 million purchase from PGE of the former Roslyn Lake site to build a remote elephant center.

The approved plan would send the Oregon Zoo on the road less traveled to create a sort of PDX “Serengeti,” even though the zoo’s elephants aren’t African; they’re Asian.

The concept of an off-site facility for zoo animal conservation and breeding is unique, Zoo Director Kim Smith told the Post outside of the meeting.

“Not a lot of zoos have the privilege of building a center like this,” she said. “There are just a few that have properties for animal conservation and breeding like we’re planning to do here.”

From past experience, zookeepers know elephants in captivity need space, a variety of enriching activities, well-drained soil and a matriarchal herd with several generations housed together. That scenario is ideal and matches closely with wild conditions.

The expansion of the elephant area at the zoo from 1.5 acres to 6 acres, financed by the 2008 zoo bond, is only part of the solution.

Zoo staff members are planning to have two herds (at the zoo and at the remote center) so they can move the bulls between the herds. Even though the bulls socialize with others in the herd, the experts say it is better to have them “visit” the herds instead of living with them.

Smith told the Council the Oregon Zoo would do its research when formulating its plan and use the National Elephant Center, now under construction, as an example.

This adjustment to the Oregon Zoo’s previous plan for its herd, which was held only at the zoo near Portland, will allow for expansion, create conditions that more closely mimic those of the wild (which includes all-important socialization) and allow the zoo to have two herds at separate locations.

Part of the plan, which is still being formulated, would include developing partnerships to assist in funding the massive project.

Constructing the remote center is expected to cost more than $17 million, with annual operational costs of more than $1 million. Oregon Zoo officials plan to consult the Oregon Zoo Foundation to plan a fundraising campaign.

After the Council’s approval, Smith voiced her excitement at the thought of going forward with support from people (councilors) representing three counties.

“I am thrilled,” she said of the unanimous affirmative vote. “This vote exemplifies the support we have in our region. Everything (the councilors) said is heartwarming.”

The atmosphere was not without discord, as three animal rights groups were represented, each requesting delay on moving forward. But the council did not agree with their concerns.