The Oregon Zoo: it all began with a "she-grizzly." A native of England, Richard Knight had moved to Portland in 1882 and set up shop as a pharmacist near the docks along the Willamette River. Knight's pharmacy gained a reputation as a place where sailors could relieve themselves of animals they'd acquired on their travels. Parakeets, monkeys and other small animals formed a menagerie of orphans in the back of Knight's pharmacy. Two bears – one a grizzly – were staked in a vacant lot next door.
By 1888, the care of a business, four young children, and perhaps an increasingly exasperated wife prompted Knight to write to the mayor of Portland:
"I have ... for sale two bears, one young male brown, and a she grizzly, which latter is said to be with cub. They are gentle, easily cared for, and cost but a trifle to keep, and knowing they would prove a great source of attraction to the city park, would like an offer for them before sending elsewhere."
Perhaps doubting some of those assertions, the city countered with an offer of two circus cages, which Knight would be allowed to place on the grounds of City Park (now Washington Park). He did that, setting them not far from the park entrance at today's NW 24th Place and West Burnside Street. Care and feeding of the bears, however, remained with the Knight family and friends.
It wasn't long before Knight came back to mayor, this time with a slightly enhanced offer: an outright gift of the grizzly (the fate of the other bear is unknown). Portland City Council accepted the offer on November 7, 1888. The Portland Zoo – now the Oregon Zoo – was born.
From one "she grizzly" to a world-class center for wildlife preservation and field research, the zoo's 124-year journey has seen vast leaps in zoological knowledge and animal enrichment, and an increasing focus on sustainable operations, wildlife education and conservation. The zoo is proud of how far it has come:
-1.6 million people visit each year.
-700,000 people, from preschoolers to retirees, learn about the behavior and needs of wildlife through a host of educational programs.
-Animal enrichment and naturalistic settings are a top priority.
-Low-impact facilities and systems are replacing resource-intensive operations.
-Keepers, veterinarians and researchers contribute to the global body of knowledge on animal care and wildlife conservation.
-1,500 zoo volunteers annually give 117,000 hours of service.
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