How We Do It
Saving an iconic Canadian species
Today, only 400 whooping cranes live in the wild. That number might sound low, but it’s actually quite impressive. With help from the Calgary Zoo, whooping cranes have recovered from an all-time low of only 21 birds in the 1940s.
We are one of three major facilities – and Canada’s only one – that breeds whooping cranes to increase the wild population. The birds that are hatched and reared in captivity are either released to the wild to bolster new populations or held back to supplement the breeding program.
The intricacies of going from whooping crane egg to migrating bird often seem endless and the road to reintroduction is complex. Projects like this depend on sound science to improve inseminating, incubating, hatching and monitoring of whooping cranes.
Each spring, about a week before the Calgary Zoo’s whooping crane eggs hatch, they are whisked off by plane to one of two breeding facilities that we work with to save these magnificent birds. A zookeeper accompanies the precious cargo – anywhere from one egg up to as many as six – carrying them in a custom-made duffel bag equipped with its own incubator.
Under carefully controlled conditions, eggs are incubated, hatched and watched by attendants who wear white crane costumes to ensure that the fledglings do not imprint on humans. Once the chicks are capable of flight, they are either taught to migrate from Wisconsin, or some are released into a non-migratory flock.
We are like proud parents each time one of our birds is released back to Mother Nature, but we know that the population is still fragile. Our Calgary Zoo biologists are dedicated to the recovery of whooping cranes to ensure that this proud and mighty bird flies annually through the Alberta and Saskatchewan skies.
Providing world-class care to our animals involves the creation of natural habitat exhibits, engaging enrichment, knowledgeable zookeepers and an exceptional veterinary team. The Calgary Zoo is home to the best zoo and wildlife hospital in western Canada. In addition to caring for animals that are sick or injured, our dedicated veterinarian team provides preventative care for healthy animals, studies diseases, conducts conservation research and trains the next generation of zoo vets.
The Calgary Zoo participates in 26 Species Survival Plans and 49 Population Management Plans with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) for species at risk or threatened with extinction. These programs protect the long-term genetics of the captive species creating sustainable ‘insurance populations’ of animals.
Community Based Conservation
Saving species, protecting habitat and promoting sustainable living are worldwide challenges that require a global effort. The Calgary Zoo works around the world with an international network of colleagues to ensure maximum conservation impact, the application of sound science and the inclusion of local communities. In addition to scientific research, the zoo helps develop capacity in local communities to manage their own natural ecosystems in a way that both conserves wildlife and benefits local people.
The zoo’s newest community-based conservation project is working with lemurs. We’re setting our sights on the tree canopies of Madagascar, the only place in the world where lemurs are found in nature. Building on our success protecting eight endangered species across western Canada and our award winning work safeguarding hippos in Ghana, we’re now expanding our efforts to help one of the world’s most endangered primates. Our conservation model enables local communities to manage their own ecosystem in a way that both protects wildlife and benefits local people.
Educating the next generation of conservationists
The Calgary Zoo connects people of all ages with nature through engaging educational programming. Understanding the natural world is a vital key to inspiring actions that promote conservation. By connecting over 1.2 million visitors of all ages with nature and sharing the conservation stories of our planet’s most endangered species, the Calgary Zoo teaches about the challenges of our world today and how we can take action to create a brighter tomorrow.
Zoo education takes many forms, from formal classroom programs to hands-on exploration. Approximately 65,000 school children take part in formal zoo education programs and field trips every year – an incredible opportunity to engage the next generation. The zoo offers curriculum-based school programs for kindergarten to grade 12, generating excitement about nature and inspiring students to be conservation stewards. Education builds a legacy for future generations – a love of nature and a commitment to conservation.