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Calgary Zoo Wild Canada: Polar Bears and Redevelopment of the Canadian Wilds

Discussion in 'Canada' started by DevinL, 2 Jan 2024.

  1. DevinL

    DevinL Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    The Calgary Zoo opened Wild Canada, what some have described as their largest project ever, on December 1, 2023.
    Photos: Polar bears return to Calgary Zoo in $42 million Wild Canada renovation

    I will return to this massive redevelopment, and the addition of iconic polar bears, later, but first I think some perspective on what has happened at the Calgary Zoo in the previous ten years makes these additions even more significant. The Calgary Zoo has been battered with two significant crises in the ten years before the opening of Wild Canada.

    The first crisis was the devastating floods of 2013. The 2012 opening of Penguin plunge had brought penguin pandemonium to Calgary and swelled attendance to a record 1.45 million. Shortly afterwards, in early 2013, the Calgary Zoo released an ambitious Master Plan for the next 20 years. Sights were set on improvement and growth. Then the floods hit. Almost the entire Zoo island was flooded. Heroic interventions helped save some of the animals, which minimized casualties. Unfortunately, the Zoo's buildings and facilities took an appreciable hit of over $50 million in damages. The Zoo did not fully reopen for months and lost an estimated $11 million in revenue. Attendance plummeted to under 800,000 with many of those visits under reduced rates during a partial reopening. With amazing support from the community, and cost cutting, the Calgary Zoo weathered the floods and ended the year with some positive net income(Calgary Zoo returns to solid financial ground post-flood).

    The Calgary Zoo rebounded markedly with the opening of Panda Passage and the visiting giant pandas from China. The Calgary Zoo set a new attendance record of nearly 1.5 million in 2018 during the first year of the pandas visit. Things slowed down a little the next year, but were still strong. Then the unexpected would dramatically alter the future of the pandas in Calgary.

    In 2020 the COVID pandemic went global and caused a second crisis at the Calgary Zoo. All zoos suffered from the pandemic. Caring for the visiting pandas was particularly challenging for the Calgary Zoo. They were previously dependent on regular shipments of bamboo from China. That bamboo could no longer be delivered with COVID restrictions. The Calgary Zoo found some new sources of bamboo in North America, but was having a hard time with reliable deliveries. Eventually, they made the difficult decision to send the pandas back to China.

    The pandemic had forced the Zoo to ship the pandas back to China prematurely and dramatically affected other zoo operations. The Zoo closed for 72 days in the peak season and cut 60% of staff. Visitation for 2020 was slightly lower than the flood year of 2013.

    Partial recovery happened in 2021. The Calgary Zoo had invested a lot in creating habitats for the pandas. Climbing trees and other features were added to the exhibits. White-handed gibbons and a Malayan tapir became the new inhabitants of the pandas former homes.

    Shortly thereafter, while COVID was still slowing recovery, the Calgary Zoo began work on Wild Canada, which would open 26 months later on December 1, 2023.

    I promise that I will talk about the exhibit and my visit some time later. I can't resist telling some of the background story!
     
  2. DevinL

    DevinL Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    The Calgary Zoo did not pick a low-hanging fruit to try and bounce back from the 2013 floods, COVID pandemic, and premature departure of the giant pandas. The most controversial part of the Calgary Zoo's 2013 master plan was the addition of polar bears Calgary zoo redesign to include polar bears, snow monkeys and pandas: Oh my! - Macleans.ca.

    There is a long history of polar bears and the Calgary Zoo. This history had to be faced and it shaped the Wild Canada polar bear exhibit that was created.

    There was once a small zoo in nearby Banff National Park. Its most popular animal was a polar bear. When the Banff Zoo closed in 1937 many of the animals, including the polar bear, were sent to the Calgary Zoo.

    In the 1940's a young Don Taylor was awe-struck by the polar bears he visited at the Calgary Zoo, even though their environment was far from majestic. Decades later, he became the major donor and namesake for the Taylor Family Foundation Polar Bear Sanctuary in Wild Canada at the Calgary Zoo (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/calgary-zoo-expansion-polar-bear-1.6092675). He wants to bring awe-inspiring moments with polar bears to other Calgarians in an environment where the bears thrive much better than they did in decades past.

    The Calgary Zoo held polar bears for decades, but it wasn't until the 1990s that it became controversial.
    Else Poulsen, a bear keeper, was making considerable efforts to improve the lives of Snowball and Misty (the two polar bears at the Calgary Zoo) through enrichment. To get more insight on her keen observations and compassion, I highly recommend you read her book, Smiling Bears: A Zookeeper Explores the Behavior and Emotional Lives of Bears.
    Enrichment alone wasn't enough to keep Snowball from pacing stereotypically. Else noticed parallels between these behaviors and obsessive compulsive disorders diagnosed in humans. She began a study with the University of Calgary on whether Prozac treatments for Snowball could reduce the expression of stereotypical pacing. The treatment worked and Snowball improved dramatically. She regressed in a further stage of the experiment where Prozac was no longer administered.
    The media caught wind of this, sensationalized it, and made it a front page story. Other outlets picked up the story and it became international news. While this story was unfolding Snowball was suffering from severe arthritis and was later humanely euthanized.
    Snowball and Misty had a close bond, and Snowball's passing was tough on Misty. Misty began to pace more. Through establishment of a strong keeper-animal bond, enrichment, and habitat changes, Misty improved. Moving to a more open and natural habitat in the Canadian Wilds nearly stopped her pacing altogether. Unfortunately, Misty died months later from epileptic seizures and other incurable medical conditions.
    The media has often portrayed these events differently than I just did. In this CNN article about an otter death, Calgary Zoo blames death of otter on 'unauthorized' pair of pants | CNN , they say "Tragically, this is not the first time animals at the Calgary Zoo have died in abnormal circumstances... Misty the polar bear died after being prescribed Prozac to improve her erratic behavior". How many insinuations do you see in that phrase? I have even heard accusations from others that the Calgary Zoo's polar bears died of depression.

    Years later, these stories and impressions helped fuel the controversy around the Calgary Zoo's proposed Arctic Shores development and the return of polar bears. This article, https://canada.constructconnect.com...ilding-a-beluga-bathtub-in-calgary-joc021231w, touches on the controversy in these lines, "Some wildlife experts and Calgarians who remember the agonized polar bears that once paced ceaselessly in their zoo exhibit object to keeping polar bears or whales in captivity. The zoo has learned a lot about polar bears in the 35 years since designing the exhibit where the tranquilized Misty and Snowball paced until their deaths in the 1990s, Graham said".

    The plans for Arctic Shores were scaled back, and then polar bears removed from any near-term developments. The Zoo cited rising construction costs for the decision Zoo shelves Arctic Shores exhibit.

    Arctic Shores was envisioned as a premier exhibit of Northern wildlife and would have included one of the world's largest saltwater aquariums among several acres of outdoor exhibits. It is mentioned a bit here on Zoochat on posts like, 'What are some of the coolest zoo exhibit plans/master plans that never got built' and 'Cancelled exhibits'. Arctic Shores was like the Calgary Zoo's Journey to Churchill before that Assiniboine Park Zoo exhibit was designed. They were even both designed by the Portico Group.

    I brought up Journey to Churchill specifically because I think there will be an inclination to compare Wild Canada to Journey to Churchill or the Calgary Zoo's shelved Arctic Shores plans. This could be illuminating. It could also be a poor exercise if it's insensitive to context. Taking into consideration inflation and supply chain issues, Wild Canada's redevelopment, including polar bears and many other species, cost less than a third of Journey to Churchill. The ambitions and constraints are wildly different between the two exhibit complexes.
    Calgary Zoo's Taylor Family Foundation Polar Bear Sanctuary is designed around enhancing polar bear well being and improving and doing things differently than past polar bear exhibits at the Zoo. They want healthy happy bears, to quiet controversy, and to re-instill confidence from the public that the Zoo is committed to the welfare of their bears. Of course, visitor experience was not forgotten.
    Journey to Churchill is a blockbuster gamechanger that's supposed to anchor the Assiniboine Park Zoo. They went all out for visitor experiences, notable with underwater viewing tunnels. Of course, animal welfare was also very important there too.
     
  3. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member 15+ year member Premium Member

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    I'm really enjoying your comments about Calgary Zoo and its history with Polar Bears. I own that book by Else Poulsen and I'd highly recommend it to anyone interested in animal welfare within a zoo environment. Calgary must be commended for creating a new Polar Bear exhibit that is a million times better than the concrete grotto that held bears back when there was a lot of controversy with the species at the zoo.

    On a side note, I noticed that the North American River Otters now have an overhead trail (like Philadelphia's 'Zoo360' system) that goes high above the heads of visitors. I'm not sure that I've ever seen such a thing for otters and hopefully they will use it frequently in the years ahead.
     
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  4. DevinL

    DevinL Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Thank you for the positive feedback Snowleopard :).

    The overhead trail isn't the only special feature of the new otter exhibits! I'll reveal some of the other special features later.

    There are actually 2 main exhibits that housed two groups of otters on my visit. One group of three and one group of four. They were an absolute joy to watch :D! I was racing back and forth between the many different viewing areas trying to keep up with them
     
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  5. DevinL

    DevinL Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    I briefly mentioned that there was also some visitor experience goals for the polar bear exhibit at the Calgary Zoo, and I wanted to explain that further.

    The new polar bear exhibits and the other changes that created Wild Canada are meant to revitalize and enhance the exhibit complex formerly known as the Canadian Wilds. Polar bears deservedly get a lot of the attention as the stars, but there are also over 14 other species on display. The redevelopment included 14 capital projects (Calgary Zoo set to relaunch Wild Canada zone — with polar bears | Calgary Herald). I don't think that total counts the Bugtopia playground that opened in 2020 or some improvements to viewing areas for wolves and grizzly bears. There are almost certainly more changes upcoming to the southwestern carnivore exhibits in the near future too.

    That seems like a lot of changes, and it is, but Wild Canada is not a complete overhaul. Even the polar bear exhibit, the most significant change, heavily burrowed from existing exhibits. The Taylor Family Foundation Polar Bear Sanctuary basically amalgamated exhibits that used to display Dall sheep, wood bison, and whooping cranes, with some other space. Some of the other animal habitats in Wild Canada seem only lightly touched, and I doubt that the Zoo will want to change them significantly any time soon.

    Wild Canada didn't require a drastic wholescale change because there were many areas of the Canadian Wilds that were still effective. Today, I was combing through Tripadvisor reviews of the Calgary Zoo that mentioned Canadian Wilds. They were almost all very positive, although there were some complaints about too few animals or the animals being too far away. The habitats and landscape were held in pretty high regard. I second those opinions and have a special place in my heart for the Canadian Wilds.

    You can see where the Canadian Wilds was underperforming by reading between the lines in some of those reviews. The Canadian Wilds was considerably quieter than other parts of the Zoo. For many, even some of those who viewed it very fondly, it was not a must-see part of the Zoo. Not every part of a zoo needs to be busy, and some people like how the Canadian Wilds was quieter.

    For a very popular and growing zoo, like the Calgary Zoo, you can't cluster all your marquee exhibits in a small area. You need to make good use of your space when it's limited, as it is at the Calgary Zoo. I have seen several hour plus line-ups at the Calgary Zoo for three different exhibits - Penguin Plunge, Land of Lemurs, and Panda Passage (when it had giant pandas)! Ask Snowleopard if you don't believe me! I shudder to think of the traffic that a polar bear exhibit next to the penguins would create :eek:. The Calgary Zoo needs to spread out visitors more.

    Well, one way you can spread out visitors is by adding mega-charismatic polar bears near the far end of a well-done but underperforming 21 acre exhibit complex. I don't think that was the primary determination with respect to siting. As I wrote earlier, I strongly believe that animal welfare was the Zoo's number one consideration. Design shouldn't accomplish just one goal though. The new Taylor Family Foundation Polar Bear Sanctuary also helps encourage people to go through all of the new Wild Canada exhibit complex.
     
  6. DevinL

    DevinL Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    The Zoo was busy this past Sunday installing a large window to view the polar bears from the amphitheater, so I have postponed my second visit to Wild Canada. I was hoping to take more photos and do a more in depth review. Instead, I am opting to post a less exhaustive review and focus a bit more on some of my experiences from my first visit. I wish I had more photos to share with this, but I forgot my well-charged reserve camera battery.

    Before I begin, I think it's important to discuss some of my personal hopes and expectations of Wild Canada. Seeing healthy and happy polar bears is extremely important to me. I remember Misty and Snowball. I was a bit too young at the time to fully understand the controversy surrounding them and their welfare, but I was still aware of it.
    Fast forward almost two decades to my first US zoo trip, My First US Zoo Trip . It was very disheartening for me to see one of the polar bears at the San Diego Zoo pacing very stereotypically. It put a dampener on my visit to that facility. I hope that it was just a bad time to visit and that the polar bears there are doing much better than what I saw that day. We all have bad days and it's important not to generalize. That was the last time I saw polar bears until Wild Canada opened last month. Going in I was hopeful, but also nervous.

    With a fresh coffee in hand to ward off the cold, I headed for Penguin Plunge because it is just a few steps from the tunnel entrance/exit of the Zoo and because penguins are awesome. Inside the immersive dome, a volunteer said that I had good timing because the penguins were active. I told her, "I haven't been here once where at least some of the penguins haven't been active". . With four species (Humboldt, king, northern rockhopper and gentoo), and dozens of individual penguins, one, or more, of the penguins is almost always up to something interesting! And you feel surrounded by them too. The visitor path, with low viewing windows, goes through the middle of the exhibit. There are two underwater passages under the path that connect both sides for the penguins. They can even gather up enough speed to porpoise (jump) out of the water and splash visitors. Luckily, on that day I saw them porpoise a few times and didn't wind up getting splashed with penguin and fish marinated water. On the way out, a little girl was crying because she didn't want to leave the penguins. Her parents tried to comfort her that she would also love the new polar bears.

    You don't have to travel very far to begin that journey to the polar bears. A few steps away, abstract aurora borealis sculptures invite you to head into the newly redeveloped Wild Canada exhibit complex. The entire area is over 21 acres in size and and currently has over 13 medium to large animal exhibits for about 15 species of animals. The complex is themed to represent Canada's iconic ecological zones. These zones are not disjunct and I believe I missed some of the signs while getting caught up looking at everything else.

    The winding path travels past clumps of deciduous aspen trees and shrubs and rolling topography to the Foothills zone. An opening in the vegetation provides the first view into a hill-like exhibit for bighorn sheep. The bighorn sheep exhibit is an organic shape vaguely like the letter c with viewing on the inside of that c. You could also liken it to a planarian in shape. The best viewing is from the middle. Here, the views are more sweeping and the topography hides the wall drop-off barrier between the sheep space and visitor lookouts. The sheep herd wasn't obliging that day though and they were instead congregated at the far end of the exhibit. There they were nibbling on some branches, rubbing their heads a bit on tree trunks, and navigating around some spruce trees.

    Coniferous trees, especially spruce, become much more dominant in the Rocky Mountain zone. The path ascends to the foot of a narrow gully between imposing simulated rock walls. There are also piles of large boulders that the path curves around. An outlook provides a view into one of two connected grassy alpine habitats for Rocky Mountain goats. Tall rockwork frames the back of the exhibit and smaller rockwork retains parts of the terrain. The meadow slopes steeply down to the foot of a hidden wall that contains the goats from the visitors. The goats were all in the second exhibit looking statuesque above the onlooking visitors.

    Further down the path there is another opportunity to see the nimble white goats in the distance from an alpine meadow. Turn your body around, and a waterfall tumbling in front of a hillside helps disguise the washrooms behind. This waterfall helps draw you into the next exhibit the Jihad Shibley Rocky Mountain Aviary.

    There is an option to bypass the aviary, but why would you miss the chance to walk among large carnivorous birds? The aviary was home to 2 snowy owls and 6 other owls that I believe were all great grey owls. In the warmer months, Painted turtles will enliven the stream running through the aviary. There may be a rough-legged hawk here too. Dozens of spruce trees flesh out the space and provide perches for the owls to survey from. There's also an artificial rock wall with ledges that the owls have successfully used to raise several clutches of owlets. For many years the owls in this aviary have arguably been the most popular animals in the northern end of the Calgary Zoo, excluding penguins.

    Outside the aviary you are still amongst stands of spruce trees in the Boreal Forest. Actually, I believe the Boreal Forest started just before the aviary, but that's confusing. I guess that they didn't want to change the name of their aviary. A parting in the forest provides a view into the woodland caribou exhibit.

    I could hear the clicks of their tendons (don't worry, this is normal) as the caribou walked from the shelter of some spruce trees and into the grassy stretches of their exhibit. I was getting excited to see the next inhabitants, so I hurried along.

    The next animals are the mega-charismatic stars of the exhibit complex- polar bears!. Their exhibit is so large though that they weren't visible at the first two major viewing areas. The first viewing area has a large window overlooking a stream that tumbles from a steep grassy slope. The top is so high that it can be seen for kilometers from outside of the Zoo. An artificial rock feature forms part of the containment at the cap of this hill. Large spruce trees soften the fencing on the sides. There are a few polar bear activated water sprayers/features that are incongruous with the other natural features, but I will accept that if the polar bears use and enjoy them. A cave at the side of the first viewing area has a bubble window looking into the deep (about 5 meters) polar bear pool.

    The second viewing area also has a large window, except this one has underwater viewing along it's length. Swimming polar bears are at eye level of human onlookers when their heads are held just above the water to breath. Scraggly large spruce form a curtain behind the pool. This is where the most dramatic photos of the polar bears I've seen were shot. In time, and with more visits, I am confident that I can get a similar shot, though not of the same quality!

    Both of the first two viewing areas are protected under a large planted overhang suggestive of a rocky coastline. It is partially softened by some artificial rockwork and logs. This area is themed as a Coastline or something similar. I saw the sign for this area, but don't trust my memory. Children can play nearby amongst logs sprawled with riddles and topped with cutouts of ptarmigan and leaping foxes. Playful interactive signs of polar bears are also nearby. My interest in this area waned and was recaptured by the nearby woodland caribou.

    North America's reindeer were crossing the small stream in their exhibit. The trees thin in this area and you enter the Tundra. On the left you can find caribou, and on the right, well, you might be able to find polar bears, but they were somewhere else.

    Further down the path, an overlook provided my first glimpse of a polar bear! The views of the over 2 acre exhibit are more panoramic here and I could see one of the iconic white bears sauntering in the distance. I probably should have just waited there, but I thought I could get a better view by continuing on the path.

    I stopped to watch a muskox amble up to a viewing area. This was Tilly and she came as close to me as she possibly could and looked right at me. I didn't realize how adorable muskox can be! I was too caught up to want to put my camera between us. Some other visitors came up and Tilly wandered off. She climbed atop some rocks and momentarily poised there elegantly. It was a little far for my camera to get a good zoom. In the process of fiddling around with my camera I missed the shot completely. Oh well, at least writing about it will help me remember it.

    Other memorable encounters with animals awaited me ahead. Otters are the star of the River zone and Brawn Family Foundation River Lodge. A group of three of the energetic mustelids was swimming around a shallow stream in the first exhibit. One was carrying and playing with a large scallop shell. An overhead tunnel connects that exhibit with another exhibit on the other side. I continued into the building to watch the otters from other vantage points. In addition to several tall viewing windows inside, the first exhibit also has a training wall. In the second exhibit I watched a group of four otters tumble around underwater. They were an absolute delight to watch, but I was getting anxious to finally see the polar bears, so I headed out.

    Past an overlook of the Bow River and a sprawling moose exhibit in a riparian forest, the polar bear exhibit continues. I ascended to an overlook with a panoramic view of the exhibit and saw the polar bears, but they were moving towards the area that I had already visited. I wasn't about to leave it at that, so I backtracked all the way back to the first overlook before the muskox.

    The polar bear was just climbing atop a large rock perch on his overlook. This is the picture I took: . He seemed very relaxed, but was still attentive to his surroundings. He scanned the horizon and would occasionally arch his nose upwards and sniff the air. One smell seemed to catch his interest and so he climbed off his rock perch to investigate. I followed him, backtracking further down the path.

    Baffin or Siku, I'm not sure which one he was, stopped at the edge of his exhibit to watch the caribou across from him. He dug into the earth and settled down. .

    Eventually he lost interest and moved across his exhibit. I followed him as he came to a rock den in the grassy hillside. After investigating it a little he sprawled down.

    This encounter felt so different from the polar bear I had seen at the San Diego Zoo, or the polar bears that were at the Calgary Zoo over 20 years ago. He seemed much more relaxed, and also more tuned into his surroundings. He had moved about his exhibit deliberately and not at all in a stereotypical manner. Of course this was just one visit, and I would like to see them again to make sure that they're doing well. Overall, I felt immensely relieved and excited to visit them again.

    After that encounter I walked to the final polar bear viewing area which was still under renovation, but will open soon. It will have a large window overlooking a different part of the exhibit. An amphitheater overlooks the viewing window with washrooms built into the back. Those washrooms help service the nearby massive Bugtopia playground.

    Passing on a bridge spanning a lagoon brings visitors to Bugtopia. This playground was built in a natural riparian forest of towering balsam poplars. The playground is themed as a giant sized version of local organisms, especially bugs. It's meant for children, so I resisted the urge to play and explore there myself, but you should go there regardless because of the adjacent moose exhibits.

    The moose exhibit was enlarged recently and now spans the area from the porcupine exhibit to the muskox exhibit. It has been built lightly in an existing riparian forest with lagoons from the nearby Bow River. There are occasionally moose seen in Calgary, and this flooded forest would have once supported wild moose travelling from the west. It is now home to two orphaned rescue moose. Aspen and Maple were resting under some trees.

    A nearby lagoon will soon center a whooping crane exhibit. There were lots of signs about the Calgary Zoo's conservation efforts with Canadian wildlife. The statures of swift foxes were realistic, but I couldn't help but want to see the real thing too. I wish the Calgary Zoo would display more of the small Canadian animals that they have conservation projects for.

    The rest of Wild Canada was not part of the recent redevelopment and the animal exhibits are now some of the oldest at the Calgary Zoo. That does not mean that they're bad. For their time they were very well done and I would argue that they're still better than some new exhibits for the same species in American zoos. I went past them fairly quickly on this visit and only really watched the gray wolves. The grizzly bears and black bears were in torpor, and the porcupine wasn't visible either. The cougars weren't too active as can be expected of two elderly animals.

    The last part of Wild Canada is a representation of a forest recovering from a fire with lodgepole pines growing amongst the charred remains of tall trunks.

    I am biased towards the Calgary Zoo, and I have not been to nearly as many zoos as some other ZooChat posters, in particular Snowleopard, so I will pass on ranking Wild Canada. However, I have been to some of the premier zoos in western North America, Disney's Animal Kingdom, the Singapore zoological institutions, and a few other zoos in Australia and North America. Leaving the newly redeveloped Wild Canada I certainly felt impressed and that I had had many great experiences there. I'll leave it at that for now.

    In total, I spent over 2 hours in Wild Canada. I planned to go back there, but I got to the Zoo late, needed to eat a big lunch and had other animals to see.
    Tanuck, the Malayan tapir, was the highlight of the rest of that visit. He had a case of the zoomies and made high pitched neighing sounds while thrashing a suspended feeder ball around. He also had fun dunking another ball into his pool and pushing it down.

    The other highlight was watching the gorillas and eastern black and white colobus. It was closing time and I got to see them feed right by the viewing windows.
    I came back to the Calgary Zoo later that evening for ZooLights.
     
    Last edited: 9 Jan 2024
  7. BovidBabe

    BovidBabe Well-Known Member

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    This really makes me want to visit Calgary Zoo this summer! Fingers crossed I can make that trip work so I can compare Journey to Churchill to Canadian Wilds. I am enjoying this thread - can't wait to see more pictures.
     
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  8. DevinL

    DevinL Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    BovidBabe, I hope that you get the chance to check out Wild Canada this summer!
    I would also highly recommend that you make a trip to Banff National Park. There are summer buses that travel regularly from Calgary to Banff. It is entirely manageable to make it a day trip even if you're staying in Calgary. Go for longer if you can.

    I will try to take more photos of Wild Canada soon, but there is a cold streak coming to the City tomorrow. Friday is forecast to have a high temperature of a bone chilling -31 Celsius (-24 Fahrenheit), and low of -37 Celsius (-35 Fahrenheit) :eek:. I don't think I can suffer through that for long.

    Journey to Churchill looks fantastic! That complex made it much easier for the Calgary Zoo to acquire polar bears than if they were the ones bringing orphaned bear cubs into captivity. I am a bit jealous of Assiniboine Park Zoo's underwater viewing tunnels, but not adding them saved the Calgary Zoo lots of money that they will use in the near future to build more improved exhibits for other animals. You should anticipate even more changes and improvements coming to Wild Canada in the near future!
     
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  9. Jefferson

    Jefferson Well-Known Member

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    I hope Toronto looks to this for the eventual redevelopment of the Canada Domain. You guys have so many interesting species on display here, 15 large charismatic species is amazing.
     
  10. Cobi

    Cobi Well-Known Member

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    This is a great thread, thank you @DevinL for the detailed descriptions and I look forward to seeing more pictures.

    Does anyone have any pictures of the old polar bear enclosure at Calgary? I have also read Smiling Bears and am curious about how it looked.
     
  11. DevinL

    DevinL Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Cobi, I've got this link for you: Bittersweet Lessons from 1973: Calgary's New Polar Bear Enclosure. Scroll down to Figure 9 for a good overview photo of the Polar Bear Complex. There are some interesting bits of Calgary Zoo history in that essay and you may also find some of the design drawings of interest too.

    I agree with George Colpitts that our understanding of the suitability of zoo exhibits is partially constrained by our contemporary culture and understanding of the environment and animals. What's deemed exemplary today may not be when viewed in the future or more objectively from outside our cultural lens.

    That begs the question, how should we evaluate zoo exhibits, especially with regards to their suitability for their animal inhabitants?

    Earlier in this thread I talked about my experiences visiting the polar bears. I observed them and got a sense of how I thought they were doing. I'm not a polar bear though and was viewing them through my own hopes, fears, and imagination. As I wrote earlier, it was just one visit too and it's important not to generalize.
     
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  12. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member 15+ year member Premium Member

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    The development of the Canadian Wilds section of Calgary Zoo into Wild Canada has been a resounding success so far, with new enclosures, the long-anticipated return of Polar Bears to the zoo, and the early attendance numbers are incredible. The only downside has been the disappearance of several species.

    Dall Sheep are no longer at the zoo, as I believe that their former exhibit has been turned into part of the Polar Bear complex. I took this photo in 2012:

    [​IMG]

    And here's a 2017 photo:

    [​IMG]

    @geomorph

    There's also no more Wood Bison at the zoo:

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    @Dibatag

    Other species that used to be in the Canadian Wilds area include White-tailed Deer, Mule Deer, Sandhill Cranes, Wild Turkeys, Black-tailed Prairie Dogs and Swift Foxes. All are now gone and I particularly miss the foxes, even though their accommodation wasn't up to modern standards:

    [​IMG]

    This aviary held both a Bald Eagle and a Golden Eagle a decade ago, but the structure was taken down for some unknown reason. More species gone.

    [​IMG]

    Even the current Great Grey Owl walk-through aviary used to be host to Barred Owls, Snowy Owls, Great Great Owls and at least one Rough-legged Hawk all together in one space. I'm not sure if there's more than one species there these days.

    [​IMG]

    But, having said all that, it's tough to compete with Polar Bears and a new playground. Haha! In all honesty, the Bugtopia playground that opened in 2020 is superb.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
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  13. DevinL

    DevinL Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Where's the Diversity and Small Animals In Wild Canada?
    Part 1


    Ah, thank you Snowleopard! I did want to address the species diversity in Wild Canada in greater detail. I will start off by responding to some of your specific points.

    The Dall sheep have been gone for a few years now. Their former exhibit is now part of the polar bear exhibit. The second photo you showed is the Rocky Mountain goat exhibit. The goats still have that space, but they also have access to the adjacent exhibit that was originally built for bighorn sheep.

    The wood bison are indeed gone and their exhibit is now part of the new polar bear exhibit too. There were plans to house bison in the first exhibit in Wild Canada (Millions in funding from Ottawa aimed at kick-starting Calgary's recovery | CTV News). A rough plan of Wild Canada was shown on the Zoo's Facebook account months before Wild Canada opened. That plan had bison in the first exhibit (from the Penguin Plunge entrance) and a connection over the visitor pathway to exhibit space adjacent to the Penguin Plunge building. A volunteer said that bison weren't included because there wasn't enough space for them. I love bison and they tell great conservation and education stories; however, I agree that it was the right decision not to include them as the space is better suited for bighorn sheep.

    Surprisingly, before development the swift fox exhibit was one of the more recent additions to the Canadian Wilds. It was built in the 2000's and probably didn't even last ten years.
    I really miss the foxes too! There are some sculptures of swift foxes in the redeveloped Wild Canada that although lovely, actually irk me a little. I want to see the real animals! Swift foxes are an SSP animal and they have been a significant part of the Calgary Zoo's conservation projects for over 30 years. A nice exhibit for them wouldn't take up too much space or resources. I would go so far as to say that swift foxes are a glaring omission from the living animal displays of Wild Canada.

    I also miss the eagle aviary, which was once amongst my favorite exhibits at the Zoo. They will probably use that space for grizzly bear exhibit expansion in the near future.

    To give the moose more space, their exhibit was expanded to the former walk-through exhibit that once held mule deer, turkeys, and golden eagles.

    The Zoo's colony of black-tailed prairie dogs was lost to a predator and replaced with a rescue porcupine.

    The Jihad Shibley Rocky Mountain Aviary still has a bit of diversity. It has great grey owls, snowy owls, a rough legged hawk, and will have painted turtles again when winter is over.

    The Bugtopia playground is indeed superb. Having displays of live insects and other small animals would have made it even more special. Admittedly, that would be tricky as most zoos tend to exhibit tropical insect species in indoor exhibits.

    These points tie in with discussions about the Calgary Zoo being limited in space. See the later part of my #10 post here: Has the Calgary Zoo Entrenched Themselves as Canada's Most Visited Zoo? [Calgary Zoo]. The Calgary Zoo doesn't have many species anymore. If they don't start getting creative with exhibits for smaller species, than they are going to have an even smaller collection.
     
    Last edited: 27 Jan 2024
  14. Jefferson

    Jefferson Well-Known Member

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    They are also following the trend of almost all zoos across the AZA, which is fewer species, but larger, better exhibits for them. I think any expansion or re-do of any area in a zoo in 2024 is going to end with fewer species than it started with.
     
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  15. snowleopard

    snowleopard Well-Known Member 15+ year member Premium Member

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    This is absolutely true at almost every zoo. Less species, but superior exhibits. San Diego Zoo is one of the few places that bucks the trend, adding approximately 80 species between my 2017 and 2023 visits. That was because the new, $90 million Children's Zoo area (Komodo dragons, hummingbirds, several buildings and outdoor areas) essentially added an Insect House and a Reptile House to the zoo's already impressive collection. However, most zoos tend to redevelop an area with far fewer species than what was previously held. Calgary Zoo is, somewhat worryingly, almost entirely mammals at this point and an animal house with birds, reptiles, amphibians or insects is definitely needed for the sake of diversity.
     
    Last edited: 27 Jan 2024
  16. DevinL

    DevinL Well-Known Member 5+ year member

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    Location:
    Canada
    I agree so strongly with Snowleopard on this point. I actually go to Pisces Pet Emporium in Calgary regularly in part because they have more displays of fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects, small mammals and birds than the Calgary Zoo does!

    As I wrote in Post #5 on this thread, I think the addition of polar bears to Wild Canada will help reinvigorate the whole zone and make it much more popular. It basically resulted in the loss of two hoofstock yards (Dall sheep and wood bison) and the movement of whooping cranes to a new exhibit. I support that move. Most of the Canadian Wilds had become too focused on native ungulates.

    I also support the trend to give species bigger and better exhibits. I am happy that the Rocky Mountain goats at the Calgary Zoo now have much more space.

    My concern is that these large exhibits are not being complemented by smaller exhibits for a diversity of smaller animals. Where does that trend lead? Most city zoos are unable to expand. Will some of these zoos have a dozen species in the future when standards are even higher?

    Most of the very successful zoos in the United States have a high species count. As Snowleopard pointed out, the San Diego Zoo has recently increased their already impressive species diversity. Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo has created large exhibits for their mammals recently, but that is supported by diverse collections of smaller animals in the Lied Jungle, Desert Dome, Kingdoms of the Night, the Scott Aquarium, Butterfly and Insect Pavilion, and the Wild Kingdom Pavilion. At the Denver Zoo I spent considerably more time in Tropical Discovery than any other area of the Zoo. There was a study I read (sorry, I forgot the name of it) that showed there was at least a correlation between the diversity of species held and a zoo's popularity.
     
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