Oregon Zoo intent on lion’s return

Wildlife – Officials are working out what it will take, and cost, to bring lions back to the zoo

WADE NKRUMAH
The Oregonian
Wednesday, August 30, 2006

What’s a zoo without the king of the jungle? For now, the Oregon Zoo’s only wild cats are cougars, leopards, ocelots and tigers.

But Tony Vecchio, zoo director, said he’s eager for lions to return, hopefully by summer 2009. But like everything else, it’s a matter of money.

He said finding money would fall to the Oregon Zoo Foundation, a nonprofit fundraising group. The foundation’s development committee would create a plan to seek support from corporations, foundations and individuals, he said.

The group “probably would get a fair amount of money in hand before announcing a campaign,” Vecchio said. For now, plans are in early stages, he said.

He said bringing lions back to the zoo could cost from $1 million for a lions-only exhibit to as much as $5 million as part of an African Predators Exhibit.

The zoo last had lions in 1997. They were in what Vecchio called “an old feline building,” which also housed cougars, snow leopards, tigers and other wild cats.

The building — built in 1959 when the zoo moved to its Washington Park site — was demolished in 1998 to make way for the Steller Cove Exhibit. Steller Cove houses sea lions and otters as part of the zoo’s Great Northwest Exhibit.

All the wild cats in the old building were placed in other zoos, Vecchio said, leaving the Oregon Zoo with no wild cats when he arrived in early 1998.

“We know how much the public loves cats, and cats are such a conservation story that we started bringing them back almost immediately.”

Tigers were the first to return, around summer 1998. Then leopards in 1999, and cougars and ocelots this month. Bobcats are scheduled to arrive next spring, Vecchio said.

“I think we’ve heard pretty clear from our visitors that the lions are something they want to see here and expect to see.”

Vecchio said that when deciding which animals to house at the zoo, officials balance public interest with conservation values.

“In this case,” he said, “the lions and the whole idea of African predators fits both of those needs pretty strongly.”

http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/oregonian/ index.ssf?/base/portland_news/1156904741219130.xml&coll=7

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