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Edmonton's Polar Park

Discussion in 'Canada' started by snowleopard, 24 Dec 2007.

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  1. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    The Polar Park was a zoo that was situated 15 miles outside of Edmonton, Alberta in western Canada. It opened on August 1st, 1959, and I visited there many times when I was a child. When I was 10 years old, in 1986, I left Edmonton and never revisited the zoo. Either in the late eighties or early nineties the park was closed for good. The lack of funds derailed plans on keeping the place open, and the impressive animal collection was sold off to various other organizations. If anyone has information on the closing of this establishment then please feel free to add to this thread.

    The Polar Park was originally named the Alberta Game Farm, and was run and operated by an ex-boxer named Al Oeming. It consisted almost entirely of ungulates, carnivores, and birds. There were no typical pavilions or large buildings, and instead there were large, fenced paddocks for the animals. These exhibits were often very plain and basic, but enormous in size. Most of the hoofed mammals had spacious areas to roam, and there were a number of large herds at the park.

    Highlights: (based on the late seventies zoo guide that I own)

    - in 1971 a young pair of mountain gorillas were obtained. The male was 3 years old and named Sultan, and the female was almost 2 and called Zakula.
    - white-tailed and white-bearded gnus
    - the only captive breeding herd of rocky mountain goats
    - at the time one of only 3 zoos to have Dall Sheep
    - wood bison, prairie bison, and wisent
    - peary's, barren ground, woodland and osborn caribou
    - the only gayal in North America
    - a massive polar bear exhibit with 6 bears (2.4), complete with a 600,000 pool in the enclosure
    - at least 10 different species of deer
    - a pair of white rhinos
    - a pair of pygmy hippos
    - 5 species of zebra: grant's, damara, hartmann's mountain, chapman's, and grevy's
    - malayan and mountain tapir
    - free-ranging baikal seals in in a 1.5 mile long lake (no fences whatsoever), but the seals were almost impossible for the public to locate
    - przewalski horses
    - 10 species of pheasant
    - at least 6 species of crane
    - at least 13 species of goose

    In my glossy magazine from the zoo there are many photos of animals walking through large amounts of snow. It is definitely unusual to see mountain gorillas, malayan tapirs, asian elephants and blackbuck antelope trudging through piles of snow, and the weather was a deterrent to people wanting to visit the zoo.
     
  2. Sun Wukong

    Sun Wukong Well-Known Member

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    Thanks, very interesting infos. I especially liked the part with the Baikal Seal; that would probably be one of the most promising ways to achieve breeding. Not to mention the Mountain tapir, the wildebeest and the gorillas... And the Rocky Mountain Goat herd makes me smile, remembering American and Canadian zoo people marvelling at the more or less common sight of this species in European collections.
    TVArchive.ca - Alberta Game Farm
     
  3. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Sun Wukong: thanks for the link to the television series, and I'm surprised that someone found out some info on the park.
     
  4. Sun Wukong

    Sun Wukong Well-Known Member

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    You're welcome.

    Do You know what happened to the individual animals?
     
  5. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I know that back in 1985-86 the two white rhinos (that had been captured from the wild) were sold to another zoo and were replaced by a family of about 3-4 european wild boar. I have no idea where any of the other animals disappeared to, other than the fact that the Polar Park was closed to the public and continued to have a large collection that steadily declined. It must have taken many years to dispense with the massive herds of deer, bison and antelope that they had accumulated since 1959.
     
  6. Sun Wukong

    Sun Wukong Well-Known Member

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    That's what I expected. Would have loved to know what happened to the Baikal seal, Mountain tapir/gorillas...
     
  7. wzoocan

    wzoocan New Member

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    Polar Park

    Hello Everyone my name is Wayne and I have been researching Polar Park which is located just outside of Edmonton Alberta. Sorry to burst your bubble he didnt have mountain gorillas he had western lowlands he was a wrestling promoter turned animal dealer and so he exagerated a few things. The Bakial seals he had supposebly disappeared never to be found again. Alot of people in the zoo world even dought if he had them but there is a picture in his guide book he did have a vast array of rare animals. Barren ground caribou, Wisent, P horse, muskox, appaloosas and pinto reindeer, the originater of white elk, white rhino, 5 species of zebra, brazilian tapir kept in an unheated barn, breeding onagers, breeding snowleopards, amur leopard, amur tiger, golden cat, leopad cat, european wildcat, pallas cat, cheetah, Korsak fox, breeding wolverines, fisher, marten, Sarus and Demoiselle Cranes, Stanley and Wattled Cranes, Great Grey Owl, Gayal, Malayan Tapir, vicuna, gaur, peary caribou, , red panda and of course elephants. I also heard a zookeeper in the states visited his park in the eighties took a picture of a weird deer he saw and not until 10 years later did he find out what it was but a marsh deer from south America. There were no export records for this species of deer.

    Regards,
    Wayne
     
  8. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    @wzoocan: Thanks for the info!! I'm actually quite excited that someone out there has heard of the Polar Park, and looking at my post and yours confirms that it contained some truly rare and endangered animals. I am disappointed with the mountain/lowland gorilla confusion, as it clearly states in my guide book that they are mountain gorillas. Puzzling, but an exaggeration is definitely a possibility. The baikal seals are also photographed, and they are indeed that species of seal...but they were supposedly let loose in the 1.5 km Lost Lake and I guess that they were left to fend for themselves.

    Do you have anything to add to my long post on Polar Park? When did it close down? What happened to Al Oeming and his animals? It was such an amazing collection that a few of us here at Zoobeat were curious as to the circumstances of the place closing for good.
     
  9. Brian

    Brian New Member

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    I am from Edmonton and was born in 1969. I have fond childhood memories of the Alberta Game Farm. I had completely forgotten that for the last few years it was known as the Polar Park. As I recall the game farm had notoriety as being the 2nd largest zoo (by area? by number of animals?) in North America. Al Oeming visited my elementary school once and brought his pet (I remembered it as a cougar, but I keep hearing that he brought a cheetah with him to schools) with him. This was a big hit with the kids! Eventually all of the animals got shipped off to other zoos. Now I am calling the Game Farm a zoo because the name game farm seems rather strange to me. A game farm seems like a place where animals are kept so that hunters could come in and shoot them, but that certainly never happened at the Alberta Game Farm, so the name is an enigma to me.
     
  10. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    @Brian: you are right in that it was only the last few years that the collection was known as the Polar Park. And yes Al Oeming did visit many schools, and he had 3 different tame cheetahs over the years. There are photos in my guide book that show a cheetah named Tawana with school kids, as well as a pet lynx called Tonga.

    The total land area was 1,400 acres, but that included a 1.5 km lake. Apparently there were over 4,000 animals in total, with 100 different species as there were massive herds of ungulates. According to the guide book there were also 3,500 birds spanning 95 different species. It really is too bad that the collection was disbanded...but do you know when that happened? Late eighties?
     
  11. PAT

    PAT Well-Known Member

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    It would be great if the baikal seals could still be alive. Not so great that they are in Alberta not Russia but they could be caught and brought to zoo's
     
  12. LarryK

    LarryK New Member

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  13. Lumberdog198

    Lumberdog198 New Member

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    Polar park

    I know that polar park was still open past 1995 because i went there with my girlfriend multiple times and i didnt meet her until 1995.They still had many Tigers but i never ever saw the gorilla's and the lions were gone by 1995 too.They Still had lots of cheeta's he was trying to breed what was called a king cheeta which had an unusal patterned coat.Many other types of cats bobcats, cougars, lynx, north china leopards, wolverine, camels, elk, Some kind of wild boars, sheep, p horses.I think as time went on he was concentrating on animals that could bring in revenue like elk. and I think those cheeta;s were valuable too_Oh yea he had those Grizzlies{ swan hills sub spieces last of the huge plains bears} I saw that huge male bear stand on his hind legs. He must have been nine feet tall.and polar bears i remember one got out one day. I wasn't there but it was in the paper.
     
  14. Lumberdog198

    Lumberdog198 New Member

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    I just googled Al oeming

    And it said the park was open from 1958- 1998 and he now holds an auction of antique sleighs and cutters twice a year.
     
  15. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Thanks for the update! When you went after 1995 were there many empty exhibits? Do you know where many of the animals were shipped to? At one time the collection was hugely impressive and contained many rare species, and so it's interesting how it just faded away...just the 6 polar bears and 600,000 gallon pool was amazing.
     
  16. Lumberdog198

    Lumberdog198 New Member

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    Polar park

    I don't know where the animals were shipped. I think the valley zoo in edmonton got a couple of the seberian tigers. That was just a rumour though.He had so many of them I think at one time I went to polar park he had over ten siberians. There were four cubs that were raised with a border collie type dog as their litter mate.The tigers quickly outgrew the puppy. It seemed funny to see that dog in there with those 400 pound cats. but a sighn on the fence said the dog was the boss.
     
  17. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Complete list of species at the park (approximately 1978). This list is not a total of what the park had from its August 1st, 1959 opening to its 1998 closing...but rather a list of what was there AT ONE TIME in the late 1970's. Incredible collection, but mainly in huge, fairly basic wire/wood paddocks. I visited at least a couple of times ever year for the first 10 years of my life, and this species list is from a 74-page guidebook from the late 1970's. It is amusing to see some of the names given at that time, but it almost seems as if this is a listing of species at the Berlin Zoo.:)

    HOOFSTOCK: 90 species

    Grevy's Zebra
    Damara Zebra
    Chapman's Zebra
    Grant's Zebra
    Hartmann's Mountain Zebra
    Woodland Caribou (only park with all the caribou species in the world)
    Barrenland Caribou
    Peary's Caribou
    Osborn Caribou
    Reindeer
    Bighorn Sheep (the first zoo in the world to have Bighorn, Dall + Stone Sheep)
    Dall Sheep (the Brookfield Zoo is the only other zoo with this species)
    Stone Sheep
    "Fannin" Sheep (hybrid mix of Dall + Stone Sheep)
    Barbary Sheep (Aoudads)
    Moufflon Sheep
    Himalayan Tahr
    Rocky Mountain Goat (the only captive breeding herd in the world)
    Yak
    Moose
    Muskox (approx. 20 at the park and largest herd in captivity)
    Wapiti
    White Elk
    Przewalski's Horse
    Onager (Persian Wild Ass)
    Sicilian Donkey
    Poitou Donkey
    Mule Deer
    White-Tailed Deer
    Fallow Deer (white, black + spotted colour variations)
    European Red Deer
    Pere David's Deer
    Indian Sambar Deer
    Roe Deer
    Chinese Water Deer
    Muntjac Deer
    Eld's Deer
    Japanese Sika Deer
    Peking Sika Deer (also called Dybowski's Deer)
    Formosan Sika Deer
    Barashinga Deer
    Axis Deer
    Prairie Bison
    Wood Bison
    European Bison (Wisent)
    Chamois
    Markhor
    Caucasian Tur
    Siberian Ibex
    Asian Elephant
    Reticulated Giraffe
    Bactrian Camel
    Dromedary/Arabian Camel
    Llama
    Alpaca
    Guanaco
    Vicuna
    White Rhino
    Pygmy Hippo
    Malayan Tapir
    Brazilian Tapir
    White-Tailed Gnu
    White-Bearded Gnu
    Blackbuck
    Blesbok
    Gemsbok
    Addax
    Scimitar-Horned Oryx
    Beisa Oryx
    Nilgai
    Dama Gazelle
    Thomson's Gazelle
    Grant's Gazelle
    Goitered Gazelle
    Defassa Waterbuck
    Common/African Waterbuck
    Pronghorn Antelope
    Saiga Antelope (wow!!!)
    Cape Hartebeest (1st cape hartebeest born in Canada)
    Ankole Cattle
    Eland
    Greater Kudu
    Cape Buffalo
    Asian Water Buffalo
    Roan Antelope
    Sable Antelope
    Nyala
    Gayal (1st gayal born in North America in March of 1976)
    Gaur
    Banteng

    FELINES: 14 species

    Siberian Tiger (approx. 8 at the park)
    African Lion
    Snow Leopard
    Amur Leopard (North Chinese Leopard)
    Cougar
    Asian Golden Cat (Temminick's Cat)
    Leopard Cat
    Pallas' Cat
    European Wildcat
    Cheetah
    Bobcat
    Canadian Lynx
    European/Siberian Lynx
    Caracal

    CANINES: 8 species

    Grey/Timber Wolves (approx. 18 at the park)
    Coyote
    Arctic Fox
    Kit Fox
    Korsak Fox
    Fennec Fox
    Blue Fox (colour variation??)
    Silver Fox (colour variation??)

    OTHER CARNIVORES/OMNIVORES: 8 species

    Grizzly Bear (3 Swan Hills Grizzlies)
    Polar Bear ( 6 at the park - 2.4) - the enclosure has a 600,000 gallon pool
    Wolverine
    Fisher
    Marten
    River Otter
    Raccoon
    Raccoon Dog (almost nonexistent in North American zoos)

    GNAWING MAMMALS: 10 species

    Prairie Dog
    Richardson's Ground Squirrel
    Columbia Ground Squirrel
    Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel
    Parry's Ground Squirrel
    Pika
    Arctic Hare
    North American Porcupine
    Muskrat
    Beaver

    OTHER:

    Gorilla (Sultan + Zakula)
    Wallaby
    Red Panda
    Baikal Seal (these seals were turned loose in a mile and a half long lake)

    BIRDS:

    Ostrich
    Pheasants - 10 species
    Cranes - 8 species Sandhill, Sarus, Demoiselle, Stanley, East African Crowned, West African Crowned, Lilford and Wattled.
    Great Grey Owl (only San Diego and the Bronx also have these owls)
    Snowy Owl
    American Hawk Owl
    Chilean Flamingo
    Caribbean Flamingo
    Peacock
    Marabou Stork
    European Stork
    Grouse - 5 species
    Swans - 5 species
    Geese - at least 15 species
    Ducks + Gulls - at least 15 species
     
  18. Kifaru Bwana

    Kifaru Bwana Well-Known Member

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    I suppose there would be a couple of zoo people killing themselves for the sheer species listing. It is sad that the Edmonton WP is no more (it would be somewhat equivalent to The Wilds, Ohio or White Oak, Fla.

    Incidentally: whatever happened to all these species on its being defunct?
     
  19. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I've emailed Al Oeming's website, as he has a twice yearly "antique sled" auction, and hopefully one day I'll find out more information than what I know now. The 1,400 acre site was spectacular, and the sheer volume of hoofstock must have been close to the greatest variety in the entire world during the 1970's. There were 5 species of zebra, saiga antelope, 15 species of deer...the list is seemingly endless. I think that most of the animals were simply sold off to other zoos and parks around North America.
     
  20. Meaghan Edwards

    Meaghan Edwards Well-Known Member

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    What a fascinating place! I love learning about defunct zoos.