Reflections on the Oregon Zoo

One of Dan Jarman's fondest recollections is passage of a bond measure to improve the Oregon Zoo, including major expansion of the elephant habitat area.Last month, I finished my two-year term as chair of the Oregon Zoo Foundation. I have been very proud of my association with our beloved Oregon Zoo and the community-led foundation that supports it.

When I first joined the Oregon Zoo Foundation board in 2004, most of my experience with the Oregon Zoo was as a wide-eyed visitor (as a kid) and as a summer concert-goer (as an adult). I still have great appreciation for those activities, but over time, I've come to have a profound affinity for another mission of our zoo — its focus on wildlife conservation and education.

I’ve had the great pleasure to meet and interact with many of the dedicated staff and volunteers who do great work at our zoo. Their behind-the-scenes efforts in animal care and enrichment has made our zoo one of the most respected in the nation — something I’ve learned first-hand by speaking to other zoo leaders throughout the country.

The good works of the zoo family aren’t just confined within the boundaries of Washington Park. Many on the zoo staff are involved with national and international programs that have raised the visibility of the Oregon Zoo and its dedicated staff. Some noteworthy efforts include:

* Chris Pfefferkorn, Oregon Zoo’s deputy director and general curator, has been doing great work to help bring back endangered cheetah and leopard populations in Zimbabwe’s Matobo Hills National Park. While there, Chris has also forged relationships with local organizations who are helping impoverished kids in the area, even bringing them donated soccer equipment and uniforms from Oregon.

* Amy Cutting, a senior zookeeper, is a key player with Polar Bears International, a leading polar bear education and research organization. Amy has become an expert and international spokesperson on the plight of polar bears due to shrinking polar ice caps.

* Asaba Mukobi, also a senior zookeeper, spends time in his native Uganda running the Kasese Wildlife Conservation Awareness Organization, which he founded in 2002. Asaba teaches wildlife education to Ugandan children who, like kids in Oregon, benefit by learning the importance of understanding and respecting the living world around us.

Closer to home, the Oregon Zoo has been directly involved in the conservation efforts of endangered and threatened species such as California Condors, Western Pond Turtles, the Oregon Spotted Frog, the Columbia Basin Pygmy Rabbit and the Oregon Silverspot Butterfly.

There is so much to love about our Oregon Zoo.

As a parent of young kids, I know there is almost no better place in the state to spend a day enlightening the minds of young children by letting them learn about the wildlife around them.

The Oregon Zoo is a treasure in our community. This is just one reason voters in 2008 passed a local bond measure to fund $125 million in needed upgrades to enhance animal health and welfare.

It has been an exciting time for the zoo as planning has gone on to implement the bond funding. A state-of-the-art veterinary medical center has already been built. Next up is a complete renovation of the Asian elephant habitat that will expand the exhibit from 1.5 to six acres.

It is exciting to think what our Oregon Zoo will look like a decade from now when the bond and the zoo’s overall master plan is fully implemented.

Connecting wildlife to our community is probably the most important mission of any zoo. I’ve greatly enjoyed my service with the Oregon Zoo Foundation, especially the part I’ve played helping to spread the message about the countless good works of our zoo and its fantastic staff.

Our Oregon Zoo will continue to be a community gem for future generations. We can all be proud that our Oregon Zoo will continue to be a worldwide leader in animal care, conservation and teaching young people that wildlife protection is a role everyone should play.

A 15,000 square foot Veterinary Medical Center, with customized spaces to meet different animal needs, has already opened.