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Former Roslyn Lake could become Sandys savanna

2011: Where are they now? An update of the Sandy Post's top stories of the year
by: KATHY STREET Showing her enthusiasm and getting a foot into her work is 3-year-old
Samudra, an Asian elephant from the Oregon Zoo, left. Also joining in the feast of a giant, 650-pound pumpkin is Samudra’s mother, Rose-Tu, center, and Samudra’s aunt, Shine.

While it is still years off, there is a growing possibility of elephants roaming the forested and sandy grasslands around the former Roslyn Lake site.

The Oregon Zoo is looking to build a remote elephant center, and it has vetted and eliminated several sites within a 60-90-minute drive of the zoo.

But Roslyn Lake is still in the running, according to Zoo Director Kim Smith, who said the site northeast of Sandy is the only one currently being considered.

'This is the best site we have looked at,' Smith said. 'This site has kept our interest the longest. It's meeting a lot of the criteria that we have, and we remain hopeful as we continue to investigate it. But we don't have any other sites that have met our criteria, so we're keeping our options open.'

Smith expresses lots of hope for the Sandy-area site because she knows a remote center is just what the zoo needs to ensure the future health and growth of the zoo's herd of Asian elephants.

'We continue to make progress on our research into the (former lake site),' Smith said. 'We feel positive about our progress, and we are committed to building a remote center.'

Zoo investigators are gathering the details and logistics of building a center near Sandy, but they won't suggest a timeline for the center's construction until the land choice is made.

They're concerned with the condition of roads because they would occasionally transport elephants between the zoo and the remote center.

They're concerned about soil types, good drainage and suitable plant life in the area.

They're concerned about privacy and the ability of the animals to find secluded spots when they desire.

And they're concerned about any environmental issues that would restrict buildings and the land's use for elephants.

Investigating all of those issues takes time, Smith said, but to date nothing has been discovered that would rule out this local site.

'We want to be good stewards of our voter dollars and for our animals,' she said. 'We want to make sure we have a thoughtful process and make good choices.'

The concept of an off-site facility for zoo animal conservation and breeding is unique, Smith said.

'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. It's something that is needed for our animals, and we feel it's the right thing to do.'

Not only will the remote center be used to develop the animals' social skills, but also for breeding and research by any outside agency.

'We want to be that world leader that our zoo is and can be in the future,' Smith said. 'This (planned) center is a necessity, if we're going to have a world-class zoo - and that's where we're heading.'

As part of the zoo's vision for its growing and diverse elephant herd, an enhanced six-acre facility also is going to be built by 2013 on the zoo property in Portland. The design for that project should be approved, Smuth said, in January 2012.