The Calgary Zoo is located in Bridgeland, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, just east of the city's downtown and adjacent to the Inglewood and East Village neighborhoods. It is accessible via Calgary's C-Train light rail system, by car via Memorial Drive, and by bicycle and footpath via the Bow River pathway. A large portion of the zoo is located on St. George's Island in the Bow River.
The zoo is operated by the Calgary Zoological Society, an independent not-for-profit organization that is Alberta’s oldest registered charity. The AZA, WAZA, and CAZA accredited zoo was among the first in Canada to be accredited by all three associations. It is home to almost 800 animals, excluding individual fish and insects, and 130 different species. The 120-acre zoo is organized by into six distinct zones: Destination Africa, Canadian Wilds, Penguin Plunge, Dorothy Harvie Botanical Gardens and ENMAX Conservatory, Eurasia, and Prehistoric Park. The zoo is open every day except for Christmas Day.
As Canada's most visited zoo, Calgary Zoo was in 2015 recognized by TripAdvisor with its Travellers' Choice Award. The zoo has also received international recognition as one of the top zoos in the world for conservation research. In 2013, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums said "the Calgary Zoo sets itself apart as one of the top zoos in the world." In 2015 the zoo was named one of the top three most respected organizations in Alberta and one of Alberta's 10 most beloved brands.
St. George’s Island was Calgary’s first park, used by the community for picnics, relaxing, and socializing. The first collection of animals appeared on the island in 1917. The Calgary Zoological Society was established in 1929.
Several animals died during floods in June 1929 when St. George's Island was swamped.
Destination Africa opened in 2003 to include two new facilities The TransAlta Rain Forest and the African Savannah. The zoo opened Penguin Plunge, an Arctic/Antarctic penguin addition in 2012.
In April 2013, the Calgary Zoo announced a master plan for rebuilding the zoo over 20 years. The initial focus on the master plan is preparing for the arrival of two giant pandas in 2018 for a five-year stay.
The Calgary area suffered extensive flooding in June 2013 resulting in over $50 million in damage to the island section of the Calgary Zoo and parts of its Canadian Wild zone (see 2013 Alberta floods). In a 12-hour period, with flood waters rising, zoo staff managed to move 140 animals to higher ground. In the end, the only animals lost were a number of fish, four peacocks, and a pot-bellied pig. The zoo was closed for most of July 2013; the northern 60 acres of the zoo reopened to the public for August through November. The zoo fully reopened in November 2013 with new animals, exhibits, and features unveiled in 2014, including mandrills, Komodo dragons, and greater one-horned rhinoceros.
One third of the zoo's 130 species are cared for within Species Survival Plans, a global initiative to protect at-risk genetic diversity. Twenty-nine species at the zoo are in danger of extinction. Other species are considered "ambassadors" for endangered species. The Calgary Zoo uses a team of educators including animal keepers, interpreters, teachers, and volunteers to increase awareness among visitors about the beauty of nature and threats to wildlife. Each year the zoo's formal programs connect directly with more than 575,000 adults and children.
The Calgary Zoo is home to a team of biologists who have earned international recognition as North America’s leaders in the science of species recovery and reintroduction. The prestigious science journal Nature rates the Calgary Zoo as one of the top five zoos in the world for conservation research, alongside New York, San Diego, Frankfurt, and London. In June 2012, the head of the Calgary Zoo's Centre for Conservation Research, Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager, was awarded the Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Roland Michener Conservation Award which recognizes individuals who have shown a commitment to “promote, enhance, and further the conservation of Canada’s natural resources”. Dr. Moehrenschlager is chair of the Reintroduction Specialist Group within the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the world’s largest conservation network. He is the first North American to hold this position.
The zoo focused on saving eight highly endangered Western Canada species: whooping crane, Vancouver Island marmot, swift fox, black-footed ferret, black-tailed prairie dog, burrowing owl, northern leopard frog and greater sage grouse. It also works on conservation projects around the world, including:
In 2008, the zoo’s Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary project, a collaboration involving 17 Ghana villages, was awarded the United Nations Equator Prize as one of the world’s top 25 conservation initiatives. It has become a model for community-based conservation throughout Africa.
The Calgary zoo has many different exhibits in it 92 acres of land (According to the Calgary zoo Facebook Page October 2, 2014).
Opened in 2003, the Destination Africa project was among the zoo's most ambitious expansions. The complex of four buildings includes the TransAlta Rainforest and the African Savannah. The TransAlta Rainforest occupies 2,900 square metres (31,000 square feet) and features a collection of African rainforest flora and fauna. The African Savannah building is home to hippos, giraffes, red river hogs, and a baobab tree. A 340,000-litre (80,000-gallon) indoor pool for hippos offers view of the creatures underwater. In the warmer months, the doors lift to connect the building with the rest of the Savannah exhibit, home to zebras and ostriches. Many other animals of the grasslands, including African lions, also reside in the Savannah exhibit. In the TransAlta Rainforest, there are gorillas and mandrills.
The Canadian Wilds were built in the 1990s to house the majority of zoo's collection of North American birds and mammals. The area includes outdoor enclosures in three zones: the Aspen Woodlands, the Northern Forest, and the Rocky Mountains. Animals in the enclosures include dall sheep, swift foxes, river otters, caribou, mountain sheep, mountain goats, grizzly bears, muskoxen, black bears, cougars, wood bison, and grey wolves.
This aviary includes a barred owl, whooping crane, golden eagle, great grey owl, bald eagle, snowy owl, and rough-legged hawk.
The outdoor gardens are among the zoo's most popular attractions and include the Dorothy Harvie Gardens. The zoo's sheltered location supports many marginally hardy plant species. The conservatory comprises the indoor component of the zoo's gardens. It includes a number of "themed" areas such as the tropical garden, the rainforest, the arid garden, and the butterfly garden. A number of animals including birds and invertebrates are housed in the conservatory. The ENMAX Conservatory was completely renovated in 2009 and features an increased emphasis on teaching visitors the importance of plants and improving energy efficiency. The Calgary Zoo achieved LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold in energy conservation and responsible building practices, the first facility of its kind to achieve this level of certification.
The western portion of St. George's Island is dedicated to Eurasian animals. Animals in this area include a greater one-horned rhinoceros, amur (Siberian) tigers, snow leopards, alpine ibex, Japanese macaques, red pandas, and Komodo dragons.
The Calgary Zoo's Prehistoric Park features life-sized dinosaurs in their re-created geographical environment. This six-acre park was renovated and reopened in 2015 with new animatronic dinosaurs. The park also includes replicas of an inland sea and volcanic mountain, and more than 100 species of living plants. Dinosaurs include Albertosaurus, Allosaurus, Ankylosaurus, Apatosaurus, Baryonyx, Centrosaurus, Corythosaurus, Deinonychus, Dilophosaurus, Edmontosaurus, Elasmosaurus, Euoplocephalus, Iguanodon, Metriacanthosaurus, Nothosaurus, Omeisaurus, Pachyrhinosaurus, Parasaurolophus, Protoceratops, Pteranodon, Pterosaur, Stegosaurus, Struthiomimus, Styracosaurus, Tanystropheus, Triceratops, Tylosaurus, Tyrannosaurus rex, and Yangchuanosaurus.
Penguin Plunge opened in the spring of 2012 and is located at the entrance of the Calgary Zoo. The exhibit includes king, Humboldt, gentoo, and rockhopper penguins . Penguin Plunge consists of two main areas. The indoor area and the outdoor. In summer, the outdoor exhibit holds the more tropical living Humboldt penguin and in the winter, it holds the opposite. In addition, a new larger gift shop was also added.
Zoolights is a Christmas lights festival held annually at the Calgary Zoo. It closes only on Christmas Day. The month-long, animal-themed show features more than one million lights and is the largest seasonal light show in western Canada.
In 2015, Calgary Zoo’s Prehistoric Park is hosting Dinosaurs Alive, an interactive and multi-sensory traveling exhibit that showcases 16 life-sized animatronic dinosaurs in addition to the existing dinosaur models throughout Prehistoric Park.
Following a series of high-profile incidents in 2008 and 2009, some commentators criticized the zoo's conduct and operations.
Past incidents cited included:
The zoo's director said all the incidents are unrelated. An independent review was solicited by the zoo in December 2009 and was conducted by the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The report, released in 2010, spotlighted systemic problems. In response, the zoo developed a 36-point plan that included improving animal care procedures and collection planning, addressing staffing issues like training and structure, enhancing security systems and safety drills, and upgrading aging zoo infrastructure. Later that year, the zoo hired noted animal welfare specialist, Dr. Jake Veasey, who has since instituted major changes and spearheaded new investment in animal facilities.
In March 2012, three Amur tiger cubs were born at the zoo; the species is classified as endangered, at last count there were only about 350 Amur tigers worldwide. A giraffe named Richard was born in late November 2007 and has been doing well. Also on March 21, 2007, a new baby Siberian tiger was born. Its name is Vitali. On May 15, 2008, a baby gorilla was born to Zuri. Zookeepers looked through more than 1,400 entries for the baby's name, and on July 2, 2008, she was given the name Yewande (Yu-wan-day), a Nigerian name that would be given to a girl after the death of an elder in the family. Her name was selected by Calgarian Justin Brouwer. On February 13, 2009, a colobus monkey gave birth; this offspring became the first to be born at the Calgary Zoo. In 2012, the zoo’s female Amur tiger Katja gave birth to three cubs. The species is so highly endangered, the births represented a 1% jump in the global population. In 2014, it became necessary to separate Vasili and Samkha, the two male tiger cubs, now almost full grown, from sister Kira and mom Katja (12 years old). Based on the Species Survival Plan recommendation, which manages genetics for future breeding, they were moved to Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg.