Oregon Zoo launches final phase of construction on new habitats

The Oregon Zoo began demolishing old structures Tuesday, Oct. 16, 2018 to make way for new animal habitats. (KATU Photo)

The Oregon Zoo is under construction, once again. Crews are building new habitats for some amazing animals.

On Tuesday, zoo leaders held a demolition party. Construction crews started clearing out the last of the former polar bear habitat to make way for the new "Polar Passage."

"Polar bears are endangered in nature because of climate change and melting arctic, and so we are going to give them what they need here in the zoo and will be doing conservation science," says Zoo Director Dr. Don Moore.

The chimpanzees and rhinos are also getting a new and much larger area to live in.

All three habitats, slated to open in 2020, will allow for visitors to get a closer look at the animals.

"The rhinos will have new homes that are expansive and allow us to try breeding black rhinos, which are critically endangered in nature," says Dr. Moore.

With construction costs 30-percent more than when voters approved the bond in 2008, it's been a financial juggling act.

"Throughout the 10 years, as needed, we've kind of taken a step back and looked overall at how the expenditures are going and made adjustments as needed," says Susan Hartnett, chair of the Oregon Zoo Bond Advisory Committee. The citizen board oversees how the zoo is spending the $125 million in taxpayer money.

KATU asked her how they're doing.

"They've always taken to heart responsibility and accountability to the voters, and recognizing that it's quite an honor that the community decided to support the zoo," Hartnett says, adding that the committee is very impressed.

"We promised our community that we would radically transform these old exhibits and provide for better animal welfare, better education, and more sustainable exhibits in terms of energy and water, and we're living that promise," Dr. Moore says.

The zoo had to move fan favorite Nora the polar bear to Salt Lake City to prepare for this big project. KATU asked if she'll be back once Polar Passage is complete. The zoo said it is a possibility.

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