By Lewis Taylor
Published: Sunday, March 18, 2007
“Wake up, bear,” said a young preschool-aged girl, pleading with a nearby 600-pound black bear behind a wall of Plexiglas. “Wake up, Wake up.”
On the meandering path that wound though the forested area, moms and dads pushed strollers and chased after errant toddlers. And at another viewing station, a grandpa meowed repeatedly at a bobcat, much to the delight of his young granddaughter.
“Kitty, kitty,” she said, chasing after the bob-tailed carnivore.
The bears were sleepy, and the lynxes were elusive, but the humans couldn’t get enough of the latest exhibits to open at the Oregon Zoo: Black Bear Ridge and Cascade Canyon.
The new area represents the final link in the $36 million expansion known as the Great Northwest exhibit. The new attraction, which cost $2 million, is in a hilly forested area just north of the main entrance. Visitors walk across a 100-foot suspension bridge and look down on a bear enclosure dotted with evergreens, ferns and other native plants, then make their way to a bobcat enclosure where they can look down the barrel of a hollowed-out tree that serves as a heated cat den.
advertisement Other animals in the Great Northwest exhibit include the orphaned female cougars, Chinook and Takina, residing in the Cougar Crossing area. Eagle Canyon is home to Athena the bald eagle and a stream stocked with coho salmon. Cascade Stream and Pond is the habitat for beavers, river otters, ringtails and western pond turtles. Cascade Crest features mountain goats on basalt cliffs. Trillium Creek highlights unusual farm animals and Steller Cove is home to sea lions and sea otters.
“It’s a nice opportunity to show people the unique native animals that we have (in Oregon),” said Amy Cutting, senior keeper of North American exhibits.
The Oregon Zoo is on the cusp of several trends including highlighting native wildlife. In the past, visitors and zoos were more interested in lions and tigers and other exotic species, but, Cutting says, many urban visitors have never seen a black bear or bobcat. And, she says, as population centers spread, humans and animals are more likely to have encounters in the wild.
As a result, the zoo has made educating people about living with wildlife part of its latest exhibit. Visitors are offered tips on what to do if they see a bear or a bobcat while camping or hiking, and are shown how to identify animal tracks in the wild.
Another trend in zoos seen in the new exhibits is the idea of “immersion,” which means putting visitors in the middle of the exhibit rather than simply creating a cement cage with a viewing window. Cutting believes such environments benefit both animals and visitors and can even help animals in the wild by engendering respect for wildlife habitat.
But most zoo visitors will be more concerned with just seeing the new animals. On a recent visit, Pete, one of three bears in the Black Bear Ridge area, could be seen sleeping in front of a crowd in a nest of pine needles. Homer, the biggest of the bears also was conveniently crashed directly in front of a viewing window. Both are estimated to be 16 years old.
Gerry, the third black bear at the zoo, is the oldest of the bears at 20. She used to be a resident of the Oregon Zoo but was relocated for 10 years while the new exhibit was constructed. She is currently living off-exhibit.
Since the bears are casual hibernators during the winter months, the zoo bears tend to sleep long hours, Cutting said. Black bears are the smallest of the three bear species native in North America. The zoo also has a polar bear, grizzly bear and sun bear.
The two bobcats, brother and sister, are somewhat harder to spot. A little more than twice the size of a house cat, they could be seen slinking around their enclosure on a recent weekday. The male, Kajika, weighs about 26 pounds, and Kasa weighs 18 pounds.