Tails From The Zoo

New changes and animals at the zoo July 30, 2009

Filed under: New Animals/Births,Zoo Animals — Scott Gray @ 9:33 pm

Here’s a quick update with a few of the changes that have happened with the animal collection at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.

  • Lots of pronghorn babies have appeared this week. An elk and a European bison were also born over the last week. You may be wondering if this baby is Conrad’s. Yes it is. Bison cows have a gestation period of over 260 days and since Conrad was the only breeding male for the group, this baby would have been conceived back in 2008.
  • Nearly half of the lion-tailed macaque group has been moved out of the zoo. These perenially favourite monkeys were shipped out today to make room for the group that now remains at the zoo. Our group was the largest in the world in captivity but was at max capacity for the size of the exhibit.
  • Our male Matchie’s tree kangaroo passed away last week. The APZ recieved tree kangaroos back in 1994 after the popular Winnipeg Down Under promotion, which saw koalas make a brief appearance in Winnipeg. Because we could not keep the koalas (they were on loan from another zoo), we got the tree kangaroos as a replacement. Our tree kangaroos did mate over the years and successfully raised several young. The zoo still has a female tree kangaroo along with a large mob of red kangaroos and a small mob of wallabies.

tree kangaroo

  • Our peafowl have finally started raising a new batch of peachicks after a late start. While I haven’t seen very many, several females are leading their babies through the zoo on an endless quest for food.
  • The lion exhibit is really coming together and you can really get a good sense of what it will look like now that most of the framing is finished.

I’ll try to keep you updated as changes continue over the summer or you can visit us at the zoo and see for yourself!


Reducing our Zoo Footprint July 28, 2009

The Zoological Society of Manitoba and Assiniboine Park Zoo have been busy over the past couple of years significantly reducing our carbon footprint. What does that mean you may ask? Well, simply that we are trying to do as many things at the zoo that reduce our negative impact on the earth and the environment. I’ve listed many of our activities in previous blogs, but if we just sat back and said, “Look what we did”, we really wouldn’t be leading by example. So instead, we’re continually trying to find ways of greening the zoo.

Most recently, the education department built five new mobile interpretation stations using reclaimed wood. On a much grandeur scale, the Asian lion exhibit is being built with our impact in mind. Our project engineers and architects have been assisting us by ensuring we reuse or reclaim as much of the old building materials as we can. Here’s a run down of what they’ve been able to do.

New Construction:

  • Rubber Curb Edging:  100% recycled (134 feet)
  • Retaining Wall: 5% flyash recycled material
  • Steel Work: Rail re-used
  • Fibreglass insulation: 55% recycled (287 cu ft)
  • Glass: 5% recycled (18 cu ft)
  • Flooring Materials: Polished Concrete floor – 15% Flyash recycled material (265 cu ft) – note that by utilizing a polished concrete floor, we eliminate the need for additional flooring material.  Typically, this is a leading source for harmful off-gasing from carpets or other flooring materials and/or adhesives

Existing Building:

  • Structure: 97% remains
  • Wall Panels: 88% remains
  • Existing Roofing: 100% remains
  • Glazing (Outdoor Exhibit): 57% removed
  • Platforms, Handrails: 92 % removed with 4% re-used on site and the rest re-use or recycled by the zoo

We will strive to make our zoo and our park as green as possible over the years and will keep you up to date as to how we’re progressing.


Zoo Babies So Far July 23, 2009

Filed under: New Animals/Births — Scott Gray @ 5:29 am
Tags: ,

We’re getting lots of questions from zoo visitors these days about what they can new animals that can see at the zoo. At the moment, lots of babies. The Assiniboin Park Zoo has had many youngsters born this year including fox, markhor, reindeer, elk, zebra, eagle, crested screamer, caribou, bison, wisent (European bison), musk ox, fruit bats, cotton-topped tamarins and several other species of bird. The zoo has also recently acquired a group of White’s tree frogs.

Pronghorn newborns


Mission: Big Foot – Learning to Walk Softer July 5, 2009

You can now help the Assiniboine Park Zoo and the planet at the same time you are learning how to keep some money in your own pockets!

The Zoological Society of Manitoba has teamed up with Planet Partnership® to help our patrons learn how to be more sustainable – and it only takes 45 minutes. Here’s just some questions we’ll answer for you:

What is sustainability and what does it mean to our future?

Is it a fad or a trend?

What are the human contributions to the problem?

Why are the environmental, economic and global consequences important to me?

How can I create a personal action plan for carbon reduction and save money ?

50% of all proceeds benefit our zoo – so tell your neighbors, your co-workers and even your boss to participate in this great program. It’s a win for all of us! Make your pledge to do your part, because, “If Not You, Then Who?”

Here’s how to participate: Go to www.planetpartnership.com

Choose Take the Training

Enter this password:  rfapz25

Enter your credit card information for the registration fee of $15.00 – Remember that 50% comes back to us in support of conservation and education programs at the Assiniboine Park Zoo!

Register your username and password. Write down your username and password so you don’t forget it – you may need it again.

You can watch our cumulative numbers grow on the website, under carbon reduction totals.


Spirit of the Earth Award Winner

I am happy to announce that the Zoo Education Centre was one of the recipients of the 2009 Spirit of the Earth Awards, a project of Manitoba Hydro. The program that we won for is called Aboriginal Animal Teachings.

Aboriginal people have always used storytelling as a way of teaching important lessons to children, as well as entertaining members of their family or community. Elders, both women and men, kept animal legends, their message and morals, alive throughout the generations. It is our hope to help continue to keep these stories and legends alive for future generations, with the Aboriginal Animal Stories program. The objectives of the Aboriginal Animal Teachings program include:

  • Introducing people of all ages, especially youth, to indigenous North American animals.
  • Creating a connection between art, science and culture through wildlife.
  • Introducing people to Aboriginal beliefs, values and stories, especially as they pertain to the natural world.
  • Creating an awareness of the value of storytelling as a way of passing information from one generation to another

Spirit of the Earth Awards Program

Manitoba Hydro fosters environmental awareness and encourages initiatives that improve our environment. At the same time, Manitoba Hydro recognizes the significance of Aboriginal people and their culture to the Province of Manitoba. Manitoba Hydro wanted to link these initiatives, and in 2002, introduced a program called Spirit of the Earth Awards. Now in its seventh year, the annual Spirit of the Earth Awards publicly recognizes positive environmental achievements by Aboriginal people or that directly involve Aboriginal people.

The intent of the Spirit of the Earth Awards is to promote environmental awareness and to recognize the culture and history of Aboriginal people.

2009 Award Winners:

The following list includes some wonderful programs that were recognized this year. Congratulations to all of the recipients. Spirit of the Earth Awards were presented on National Aboriginal Day, June 21, 2009.

  • Mino Aski (Good Earth) Culture Camps, Misipawistik Cree Nation Health Authority – week-long camps that promote a healthy lifestyle for youth.
  • Darryl Nepinak – internationally recognized Aboriginal filmmaker who explores the Anishinabe people and their culture, and uses humour to break down cultural barriers.
  • Friendship Garden – Erickson Elementary School, Erickson, MB.
  • University of Manitoba Graduation Pow Wow – honours Aboriginal graduates from the University of Manitoba and the University of Winnipeg.
  • University College of the North – Aboriginal Midwifery Baccalaureate Program.
  • Promoting Métis Culture – Channing, Chelsea and Christie Lavalee, for their collective contributions toward the preservation of Métis culture.
  • Zoological Society of Manitoba – Aboriginal animal teachings.
  • Urban Circle Training Centre – holistic approach to training and employment for Aboriginal women and men.
  • Laura Warenchuk, Buchanan School, Winnipeg – The Spirit of Buchanan School program encourages eco-conscious activities and crafts.
  • Traditional Area Advisory Councils (Hollow Water & Black River First Nations) – working on land use and moose management programs with Manitoba Conservation, in consultation with Manitoba Model Forest Inc.

Amur Tigers on the Brink

The following text was taken from http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8128000/8128738.stm. All rights are reserved by the author.
The Amur tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) is also commonly known as the Siberian tiger.

Amur tigers on ‘genetic brink’

Matt Walker, Editor, Earth News

A wild Amur tiger is a rare sight. The world’s largest cat, the Amur tiger, is down to an effective wild population of fewer than 35 individuals, new research has found.

Although up to 500 of the big cats actually survive in the wild, the effective population is a measure of their genetic diversity. That in turn is a good predictor of the Amur tiger’s chances of survival.

The results come from the most complete genetic survey yet of wild Amur tigers, the rarest subspecies of tiger. At the start of the 20th Century, nine subspecies of tiger existed, with a total world population of more than 100,000 individuals.

Human impacts have since caused the extinction of three subspecies, the Javan tiger, Bali tiger and Caspian tiger, and world tiger numbers could now have fallen to fewer than 3000.

The Amur tiger, or Siberian tiger as it is also known, is the largest subspecies which once lived across a large portion of northern China, the Korean peninsula, and the southernmost regions of far east Russia. The Amur tiger most likely derived from the Caspian tiger, recent research has shown.

What is remarkable about the Amur tiger is how much lower the effective population size is than the census size. During the early 20th century, the Amur tiger too was almost driven to extinction, as expanding human settlements, habitat loss and poaching wiped out this biggest of cats from over 90% of its range.

By the 1940s just 20 to 30 individuals survived in the wild. Since then, a ban on hunting and a remarkable conservation effort have slowly helped the Amur tiger recover. Today, up to 500 are thought to survive in the wild, while 421 cats are kept in captivity.

However, the genetic health of the tiger hasn’t improved, according to a new analysis published in Molecular Ecology.

Michael Russello and Philippe Henry of the University of British Columbia, in Kelowna, Canada led a team drawn from universities in Canada, Japan and the US in a bid to analyse the genetic profiles of the remaining wild Amur tigers.

They sampled nuclear DNA found within the scat samples of an estimated 95 individuals found throughout the Amur tiger’s range, likely constituting up to 20% of the remaining population.

The study sampled the amount of variation within the DNA from more tigers, across a broader geographic, than any previous research.

“Although the census population size of Amur tigers is closer to 500 individuals, the population is behaving as if it were the size of 27 to 35 individuals,” says Russello.

That’s the lowest genetic diversity ever recorded for a population of wild tigers.

The effective population of any group of animals will be lower than the number that actually exist, due to factors such as non-breeding individuals or a skewed sex ratio.

“However, what is remarkable about the Amur tiger is how much lower the effective population size is than the census size,” says Russello.

Population split

Another important finding to emerge from the study is that the remaining Amur tigers are segregated into two populations that rarely intermingle.

The majority of Amur tigers live among the slopes of the Russian Sikhote-Alin Mountains, with 20 or fewer living separately in Southwest Primorye in Russia.

The two groups are separated by a corridor of development between Vladivostok and Ussurisk, and the genetic analysis showed that perhaps just three tigers had managed to cross the divide, reducing the effective size of the wild population further.

“There is little sharing of genes across the development corridor, suggesting that these two populations are fairly discrete,” says Russello.

“In actuality, it seems that Amur tigers are residing in two, fairly independent populations on either side of the development corridor between Vladivostok and Ussurisk, further lowering the effective size for each from 26 to 28 for Sikhote-Alin and 2.8 to 11 for Southwest Primorye.”

That means more work needs to be done to open up this barrier segregating the tigers.

If that doesn’t happen, then it’s likely that the Southwest Primorye population will continue to dwindle. That could also kill off the prospect of reintroducing Amur tigers to China, as those in Southwest Primorye are living closest to their former Chinese range.

The news is not all bad for the Amur tiger, however. Russello and Henry’s team also analysed the nuclear and mitochondrial DNA of 20 captive Amur tigers, to see if they retained any unique genetic features since lost by the wild tigers.

“There are gene variants found in captivity that no longer persist in the wild,” says Russello, which suggests that the captive program has done a good job of preserving the genetic diversity of the subspecies.

“Now that it is known which individuals possess which gene variants, managers will be able to selectively breed to help preserve the unique and rare gene variants,” says Russello.

“The implication is that this variation may be used to re-infuse the wild population sometime in the future if reintroduction strategies are deemed warranted.”


Conrad the Wisent July 4, 2009

I met Conrad back in 1996. He was the most impressive looking bison I had ever seen, and he rivals every other one I’ve seen since. Conrad spent nearly 20 years living at the Assinboine Park Zoo, until his death yesterday July 3, 2009.


My favourite memory of Conrad was when he would decide to wander over to the pond (beside the visitor path) and quietly stand just out of reach of the public, seemingly enjoying their company. At more than 2000 lbs, Conrad easily caught your attention and his absence in the herd will be obvious.


European bison, a.k.a Wisent, were hunted for decades but eventually went extinct in the wild thanks to Russian government sanctioned poaching and WWI. The last truly wild wisent was killed by a poacher in 1921. Thankfully, conservationists immediately started a captive breeding program using zoo animals.  There are currently 200 European bison breeding centres found in 27 countries worldwide. Wisent numbers eventually increased enough to be released back into the wild. At the present time, there are no more than 3000 European bison in the wild – the vast majority of which are found in four reserves in Poland, the largest of which is in the Bialowieska Forest.

The Assiniboine Park Zoo also houses plains bison, another species with a troubled past. Although wisent are smaller in overall size, they have a thickset body shape with a short neck and a pronounced shoulder hump.