CUP Undergraduate Research

Date of Award


Document Type



College of Arts & Sciences



Degree Name

History, BA

First Advisor

Gerd Horten, Ph.D.


This thesis is a study of the history of the Oregon Zoo, hereafter, Zoo, from the early 1800s to today. It places a particular emphasis on questions related to animal welfare and historical trends in human/animal relationships. Two research questions emerged in the study. First, how did this zoo go from a collection of living oddities to a standard to which other facilities are compared? And secondly, while the Zoo is exemplary, what challenges still linger regarding animal welfare? This thesis attempts to address these questions. It does so by exploring the general history of human/animal relationships. Then it delves deeper into four main eras of the Oregon Zoo’s development over the last 150 years. The Zoo was officially founded in 1888 thanks to the collection of local pharmacist Richard B. Knight. Over the course of the next few decades, through both World Wars, the Great Depression, and other major national events, the Zoo had many challenges but managed to survive and grow, but with the help of the community, it developed into a notable institution recognized far beyond Oregon. Between 1960 and 1989 concern about animal welfare and environmentalism increased globally, and the Oregon Zoo began to investigate various paths of research to improve the exhibits and the animals’ level of care. It was during this time that the Zoo shifted its focus from animal survival towards recreation and education for visitors. This was also when Packy the Elephant, one of the biggest attractions until 2016, was born. The years 1990-2016 were marked by various scandals and concerns about the true level of the animals’ care, including many criticisms of the Zoo’s elephant care. Despite these scandals, since 2001 the Zoo has been working on many conservation, education, and sustainable practices to 4 enhance animals survival, mostly in their natural habitats. In the past few years, the Oregon Zoo has created state-of-the-art exhibits and work tirelessly towards improving not only their zoo but the world.

Included in

History Commons