Great Canadian zoos

Zoos aren’t just kid stuff! Going to accredited zoos and aquariums in North America has a measurable impact on the conservation attitudes and understanding of adult visitors, according to a three-year research project released by the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Key results of the study found that:

* Visits to accredited zoos and aquariums prompt individuals to reconsider their role in environmental problems and conservation action, and to see themselves as part of the solution.

* Visitors believe zoos and aquariums play an important role in conservation education and animal care.

* Visitors experience a stronger connection to nature as a result of their visit.

* Visitors bring with them a higher-than-expected knowledge about basic ecological concepts. Zoos and aquariums support and reinforce the values and attitudes of the visitor.

Twelve institutions and 1,400 visitors participated in the studies over a three-year period.

Fortunately Canadians are not lacking in zoos to visit. Here are some of the great zoos Canadians enjoy:

Vancouver Aquarium

The beautiful Vancouver Aquarium is Canada’s largest aquarium and a non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation of aquatic life. Researchers work both at the Aquarium and in the field to explore marine life and provide scientific insight into how to focus conservation efforts. Some research efforts include:

* Field studies indicate that B.C. resident killer whales have a specialized diet of salmon. As West Coast salmon stocks decline, the dietary requirements identified by Aquarium studies provide important information in supporting conservation efforts that preserve adequate salmon for the whale populations.

* Aquarium belugas acted as a healthy gene bank to which the DNA, or genetic material, of St. Lawrence belugas exposed to high levels of environmental contaminants could be compared. This gave scientists a measurement of the genetic damage caused by pollutants.

The Aquarium’s Marine Mammal Rescue programme has been operating since 1960 to provide care and rehabilitation to sick, injured, or abandoned animals. The program is now so large that it can admit and treat 100 distressed marine mammals each year.

Visitors can expect to be entertained and informed by a wide variety of shows included an otter feed, a bird of prey talk, and dolphin and beluga shows. For a premium fee, visitors can enjoy a Beluga Encounter where they may touch and train beluga whales alongside Aquarium staff. And for children, the Aquarium offers sleepovers and camps.

Calgary Zoo

The Calgary Zoo is the only facility of its kind to contain a zoo, botanical garden, and prehistoric park, for the combined purposes of recreation, education, conservation and scientific study.

The Calgary Zoo’s commitment to conservation research was recognized in 2006 by the AZA when Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager received the North American Conservation Award for his team’s work on Swift fox reintroduction. The Zoo is involved in nine conservation research projects for endangered species and was instrumental in establishing the Wechiau Hippo Sanctuary in Ghana, Africa.

Visitors enjoy a tranquil woodland setting and exhibitions divided into different habitats, as well as (in the case of the prehistoric park) time periods. Adults can enjoy a variety of educational programmes including horticultural programs and workshops, and there are activities for kids of all ages like sleepovers, day programs, birthday parties and summer camps .

Saskatoon Zoo

The Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park and Zoo operates year round to bring over 450 educational programmes to kids and adults alike. The 58 hectare facility offers a close look at many native species, many in the context of conservation.

Every year, the zoo welcomes many new additions — including the arrival of a silk deer fawn and fallow deer twins (among many others!)

Visitors can enjoy the exhibits, historical property, and even a fishing pond. A special behind the scenes programme also offers a closer look at the zoo and participation in feeding and socialization routines.

Assiniboine Park Zoo

Located in Winnipeg’s beautiful Assiniboine Park, the Zoo includes a Zoo Education Centre is to promote the concepts of animals, endangered species and conservation through interpretive programming by providing a unique forum for wildlife and conservation education.

Visitors can enjoy the Tropical House, Kinsmen Discovery Centre, and a variety of animal encounters. The Zoo provides lectures for adults from the zoo’s primate keeper and researcher, as well as a camp for kids.

Toronto Zoo

The Toronto Zoo aims to exhibit and conserve a diversity of species within the animal and plant kingdoms for the enjoyment and education of the visiting public. Special emphasis is placed on scientific studies for the advancement of wildlife management and for the conservation of irreplaceable genetic resources. At 287 hectares it is one of the largest zoos in the world.

As an example of the Zoo’s research, in 2005, the Toronto Zoo hosted the Annual meeting of Conservation specialists from across Canada for North America’s most endangered species, the Vancouver Island marmot. The Zoo was the first to establish a captive breeding program which has now produced 33 pups – or 24 per cent of the world’s population. Toronto Zoo reproductive physiologists developed several techniques to gain an understanding of the female marmot’s reproductive cycle resulting in successful captive breeding.

Visitors can enjoy the Zoo’s six pavilions, featuring animals presented with native fauna, a Discovery Zone for kids, and “meet the zookeeper” lectures. There is also a camp for kids.

Montreal Biodome

An oasis in the heart of the city, the Montreal Biodome recreates some of the most beautiful ecosystems of the Americas in order to encourage an appreciation for our natural heritage.

The Biodome’s conservation activities aim to preserve its live collections while safeguarding the natural environment. Current programs focus on the following animal species:

* insect-eating bats of Québec, whose roosting places are disappearing

* the striped bass, a fish that has disappeared from the St. Lawrence Estuary

* the copper redhorse, a fish endemic to the Richelieu River and threatened with extinction

* the hyacinth macaw of South America, the world’s largest parrot and an endangered species

* the golden lion tamarin, a small monkey whose tropical habitat in Brazil is disappearing rapidly

For visitors, the Biodome offers ecosystems to explore and some amazing multimedia experiences – until November 12, visitors can participate in live telephone chats with a crew researching in the Antarctic. Kids can enjoy Nature Missions and booklets to fill in, available from the Biodome’s website.

Photo © Eric Gevaert

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