Connecting with nature is essential for protecting wildlife. The Calgary Zoo is that connection. We have endless stories to share about our animals who act as ambassadors for their species, our people and our conservation work.
Residents of the Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary Share Their Stories: It was a simple concept – create a sanctuary to save hippos – and over a decade ago, the Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary was founded to do just that. Nestled along the banks of the Upper Black Volta River in the northwest corner of Ghana, on the border with Burkina Faso, the sanctuary protects one of only two remaining hippo wallows in the entire country.
Living with Africa’s most dangerous animals in your backyard wasn’t easy. The hippos’ watery home was also a primary source of drinking water, and crops planted close to the river for easy irrigation were often eaten by hungry hippos at night. Conflicts between people and hippos were inevitable – something had to change.
In 1998, the chiefs and elders of 17 communities came together and embraced a new model of conservation that would protect the hippos and help their people. With help from the Calgary Zoo, two distinct zones were created along a 40-kilometre stretch of the river – one zone for humans and one for hippos. Boreholes were dug to provide fresh drinking water at seven sites throughout the sanctuary. Finally, hippos and people could peacefully co-exist.
The Calgary Zoo is more than just a place to see animals. Whether we are inspiring our visitors to love nature, saving species in western Canada from extinction or working with scientists on the other side of the globe, our ultimate goal is simple: to help wildlife and keep it wild. The successful care of endangered species in captivity and in the wild is not easy, but there is no alternative. Through education and exposure, we help our visitors understand and care about the natural world around us. We are proud to provide a place where visitors can learn about protecting the world around them while creating action and developing future conservationists.
It’s easy to get Calgary Zoo visitors excited about nature – you can’t help but feel a connection with the amazing creatures that call the zoo home. We celebrate the magical moments that happen here to open people’s hearts and minds, and help them take the next step – from recycling their cell phone to supporting conservation organizations.
We are passionate about conservation. And we know that it takes good science to successfully protect endangered species. Our dedicated biologists have supported and provided technical assistance to conservation projects in more than 20 countries. The zoo specializes in community-based conservation initiatives, one of which (Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary in Ghana, West Africa) received the UN’s Equatorial Prize. Through the Husky Energy Endangered Species Program, we are recognized as a North American leader in the science of species reintroduction. Our team may come from diverse backgrounds, but have one thing in common – a passion for conserving our world’s biodiversity.
In Our Backyard: We are sharing our messages of hope and inspiration through our on-park experiences with our guests and encouraging them to make a difference in the world around them. Working with governments, non-profit organizations, specialists, industry and communities, our team of conservation biologists conduct groundbreaking scientific research. Some of the species we are studying include whooping cranes, swift foxes, northern leopard frog and black-tailed prairie dogs.
Across the World: When committed communities get the support they need, the conservation results are truly inspiring. But communities in developing parts of the world must have a reason – largely economic – to protect wildlife. So we start by alleviating poverty: creating employment opportunities, focusing on education and improving the overall quality of life for community members. When people prosper, nature benefits. We choose projects that apply sound science, include local communities and have the greatest conservation impact. Then, we determine the best way we can help.
The Calgary Zoo began 2016 with a new resolution – we want to be more than a “zoo that does some conservation”;
we want to be a “conservation organization that happens to have a zoo.”
Of course, we are very proud to be known as a fun place to spend the day with family and friends. Yet we are less
known for our conservation work, for which we have been listed alongside top research zoos in the world.
More than just a great day out, the Calgary Zoo is a fantastic storefront for conservation education. It is an ideal
place to talk about the challenges facing animals, to share our successful work so people can see that action can
make a difference, and to inspire people to take action themselves.
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.
You give hope to endangered species, provide world-class animal care, inspire young minds and create cherished family memories. There are many ways to support your zoo – from sponsoring an animal through ZooCare to making a legacy gift.
Donate: As a registered non-profit, the zoo depends on your financial support. You can choose to direct your gift to a specific program at the zoo, or simply allow us to direct your support to the area of greatest need. Whether you want to fundraise for the zoo, or if you would like to give a monthly gift on your credit card – we appreciate it!
Volunteer: There are loads of fun and important opportunities to help out with at the zoo. Greet guests. Put your green thumb to good use. Spend your day among the beautiful butterflies. These are just a few ways you can volunteer your time at the Calgary Zoo! Find out more today by emailing [email protected]
Visit: And of course, come visit the zoo and attend our special events such as ZooLights. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to join the conversation.