Tails From The Zoo

Winnipeg Lions Roar at National Awards Ceremony October 25, 2010

Assiniboine Park Zoo Wins Prestigious Award

Winnipeg, October 26, 2010 – The Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums recently announced that the Assiniboine Park Zoo‟s new „Pavilion of the Lions‟ exhibit has won its top national award – the Baines Award for outstanding achievement.

Voted as the best new animal exhibit in Canada this year, it is an innovative exploration of the Lion‟s evolution, ecology, conservation, as well as prehistoric and historic relationships with people.
“We‟re absolutely thrilled to have this exhibit recognized in such a special way,” says Bob Wrigley, Curator for the Assiniboine Park Zoo. “Pavilion of the Lions is just one element of a massive redevelopment plan for the Assiniboine Park Zoo so we‟re proud to say this is the first of many stellar improvements in the works.”
The exhibit was described at the awards ceremony in Montreal as combining the best in animal care with a design that maximizes the visitor experience. Indoors and outdoors, visitors can safely go nose-to-nose with “the King of Beasts,” separated only by glass.
Exciting educational programs are also underway, such as “ZoosnooZ – Snore and Roar” – a sleep-over with the Lions.
Further information regarding the exhibit and award can be found at http://www.assiniboinepark.ca and http://www.caza.ca/en/news.

 

Construction To Begin On Zoo’s Old Bear Range June 8, 2010

The Assiniboine Park Zoo and Assiniboine Park Conservancy announced plans today for its new International Polar Bear Conservation Centre at a unique “snow-turning” ceremony today. Construction is scheduled to begin next week on a new transition centre for orphaned polar bear cubs. The $4.5-million education and research facility and polar bear “transition centre” in Assiniboine Park Zoo will be a world-wide centre for Arctic conservation. The new building is to be constructed behind the zoo’s existing bear enclosure.

The transition centre will be off limits to the public most of the time but a new state-of-the- art Arctic exhibit, with room for six adult polar bears will open in 2013 for public viewing of bears.  The Province of Manitoba has committed $31 million to the project, including $4.5 million for the conservation centre and more than $26 million for construction of the polar bear arctic exhibit.

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For more information on this story, please see the following coverage:

Winnipeg Free Press: Work Set to Begin On Rescue Facility

ChrisD.ca:  Snow Turned on First Phase of Polar Bear Centre

 

Biodiversity – Our Life May 21, 2010

The Assiniboine Park Zoo and Canada’s other 24 accredited zoos and aquariums are launching a national awareness campaign to engage Canadians in supporting the preservation of biodiversity — the animals, plants, and countless other life forms that make up the world’s ecosystems.  May 22nd is the International Day of Biodiversity and many zoos and aquariums are holding special events to mark the occasion.  The Assiniboine Park Zoo is hosting a Biodiversity Display and Turtle Talk on May 22, 11 am to 3 pm, in the Tropical House, and is highlighting biodiversity conservation in many of its annual programs, such as school presentations, Spring and Summer Zoo Camps, and interpretive talks around the zoo.  Biodiversity promotional materials will also be available to zoo visitors.

2010 Biodiversity Logo

2010 is also the International Year of Biodiversity, and the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums and  its partners have identified the Arctic region as a priority concern for addressing challenges to Arctic species and their habitats. They are reaching out to Canadians everywhere to enlist their support in ensuring a sustainable future for this vital part of our country.  In connecting with Canadians from coast to coast to coast, CAZA will be working closely with its partners – Parks Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Federation and Polar Bears International.”

Throughout International Biodiversity Year 2010 and into the future, CAZA member zoos and aquariums will present a broad range of information and education about wildlife and environmental issues in Canada’s Arctic. Thousands of organisms – including bacteria, insects, plants, birds and mammals — live above, on and under a single square metre of the earth’s surface. All of these species are connected like the strands of silk in a spider’s web. If a species is lost or habitat disappears, the web starts to fall apart. When we lose this biodiversity, we lose life itself.

“It’s easy to forget that people are an integral part of Nature and that our lives are tied intimately to the living things around us.” said CAZA President Rachel Leger. “Biodiversity provides us with the oxygen, food, water, fuel, fibre, and medicine we need to survive. And our actions can either preserve or destroy these resources.”

 

Arctic Biodiversity Initiative May 20, 2010


Ottawa, May 20 – Canada’s accredited zoos and aquariums are launching a national awareness campaign to engage Canadians in supporting the preservation of biodiversity in our Arctic. May 22nd is the International Day of Biodiversity and many zoos and aquariums are holding special events to mark the occasion.

“2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity” declared Rachel Leger, President of the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums. “CAZA and its partners have identified our Arctic regions as a priority concern for addressing challenges to Arctic species and their habitats. We are reaching out to Canadians everywhere to enlist their support in ensuring a sustainable future for this vital part of our country. In connecting with Canadians from coast to coast to coast, we will be working closely with our partners – Parks Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Federation and Polar Bears International”.

Throughout International Biodiversity Year 2010 and into the future, CAZA member zoos and aquariums will present a broad range of information and education about environmental issues in Canada’s Arctic. The variety of life on earth – the plants and animals that make up ecosystems – is called biodiversity. Thousands of organisms – bacteria, insects, plants, birds and mammals – live and thrive above, on and under a single square foot of earth. All of these species are connected like the strands of silk in a spider’s web. If a species is lost or habitat disappears, the web starts to fall apart. When we lose this biodiversity we lose life itself.

At first glance its vast, icy surface might seem empty, but Canada’s Arctic is filled with extremely rich and active ecosystems. From tiny plankton to huge whales, entire communities of animals and plants make their homes on, under or at the edge of the ice.

The unique polar species that live in the Arctic are specially adapted to its extreme conditions – freezing temperatures, strong winds, deep snow, thick ice and permafrost. Even slight changes to the Arctic’s fragile habitats can have a huge impact on these species, and human activities are taking their toll. Pollution, climate change and development all affect Arctic temperature, habitat and available food sources. As their Arctic home continues to change, polar bears, belugas, caribou and the smaller northern animals and plants that support them face an uncertain future.

Protecting species and habitats with national parks, working jointly with Inuit communities to manage these parks, conducting scientific research and spreading the message to Canadians across the country are all part of the cooperative approach inspired by the International Year of Biodiversity and being implemented by CAZA and its three partners. Education programs, lectures, special events, community presentations and other activities will be carried out at each of the participating accredited zoos and aquariums across the country. CAZA members will also help out with Arctic field work and the research that supports it – and will invite Canadians to contribute to this worthwhile endeavour. This special effort is intended to build on the extensive work carried out by Canada’s accredited zoos and aquariums in captive breeding and population management programs.

A wealth of information about the Arctic, its biodiversity challenges and what is being done to address them can be found on a new, specially-designed website at www.ourarctic.ca

On behalf of the people of Canada, Parks Canada protects and presents nationally significant examples of Canada’s natural and cultural heritage, and fosters public understanding, appreciation and enjoyment in ways that ensure their ecological and commemorative integrity for present and future generations.

Polar Bears International (PBI) is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the worldwide conservation of polar bears and their habitat through research, stewardship, and education. PBI provides scientific resources and information on polar bears and their habitat to institutions and the general public worldwide.

The Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a not for profit national organization that represents Canada’s 25 accredited zoos and aquariums. It sets standards through its accreditation program, leads and coordinates work in the fields of research, conservation and education, and represents its members’ interests with governments at all levels.

For further information:

Bill Peters

Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums

 

Mural of the Cave Lions April 15, 2010

Filed under: Biodiversity,CAZA,New Animals/Births,Wild Cats — Scott Gray @ 9:23 am
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By Dr. Robert E. Wrigley, Curator, Assiniboine Park Zoo

While the Assiniboine Park Zoo has displayed a number of lions over its 106-year history, a decision was made in 1981 to eliminate this species from the collection due to inadequate winter quarters for a large animal that could not handle the cold periods of a Winnipeg winter. And yet the public continued to ask about this popular and majestic species, one so traditional at other zoos. In response, the Zoo brought in a pair of lions in 2005 on loan from Import/Export Inc., one of CAZA’s commercial members. The opportunity to observe a lion family (two cubs were born soon after arrival) attracted remarkable public and media attention, and attendance rose by an extra 34,000 – an increase that year of 9 percent.
With the assistance of the Zoological Society of Manitoba, a plan was developed in 2008 to renovate the old Giant Panda building to host a permanent display of the “King of Beasts,” and also to construct a new space for a variety of uses and programs (displays, classes, meetings, and dining and sleep-overs with the Lions). The entire project is set to open in the spring of 2010.

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The interpretive displays focus on:

  • the modern lion’s ancestors and races, morphology (including a lion skeleton), distribution, natural history, and conservation issues,
  • the history of big cats (with fossil-skull replicas and figure drawings) and other cat-like carnivores (e.g., marsupial lions) that filled this top-predator niche around the world over the last 30 million years,
  • a 13 by 0.7-metre LED light box with 53 representative images of paintings and sculptures of lions, interpreted by artists from many cultures, from 35,000 years ago to the present day.
  • portraits of the 38 species of living cats, most of which are now at risk, and
  • a 27 by 4.6-metre mural which serves as the background for the spacious indoor quarters of the lions, and which is accessible for public viewing from the interpretive room. This current article describes this latter component of the project.

The objective here was to display the lion in its natural habitat, but one completely different from the typical African savanna scene to which people are so accustomed. The mural depicts a scene 12,000 years ago in France or Spain, just after the last Ice Age, but prior to the introduction of agriculture to Stone Age (Upper Paleolithic) people living in the valley. A pair of European cave lions is seen stalking a herd of red deer — a species also important in the diet of a hunter/gatherer family camped nearby. This race of lion weighed around 250 kg (recent lion averages 190 kg), likely had a thick fur coat to withstand cold winter temperatures, and is believed to have sought refuge inside caves during extreme weather and to feed in seclusion.
The left wall of the exhibit is devoted to a cut-away view of a limestone cave, which has protected a wonderful treasury of prehistoric art. Over the last 1.7 million years, possibly four successive, overlapping species of humans (Homo erectus, H. heidelbergensis, H. neanderthalensis, and our species H. sapiens) occupied the region now known as Europe. Although pre-historic populations are thought to have been remarkably small (in the mere thousands), individuals of all these species likely visited and lived in numerous caves over countless generations, and from 35,000-12,000 years ago (late Paleolithic period), members of our species painted and engraved wonderful images on the walls and ceilings of the animals they hunted for food and used in ceremonies. These elegant paintings were done in charcoal and manganese dioxide (both black pigments) and iron oxide (red), mixed with a liquid binder. The paintings often incorporated colors and contours of the cave wall to create a 3-dimentional effect, and used bold contrast between light and dark (using mixed pigments and existing cave stains) to produce great drama – an art technique known as “chiaroscuro.” On occasion, certain animals were carved into or molded onto the walls and ceilings.

Anthropologists believe these cave bestiaries had a magical purpose, with shamans overseeing sacred rituals and visions. The presence of arrows and spears stuck into bleeding and disemboweled big-game animals, red dots on the animals’ necks and flanks, and imprints of the human hand all strongly suggest that these people believed their hunting success would be enhanced by these icons. The fact that so many paintings survived to this day in numerous caves around Europe is evidence that generations of people held them in high regard.
When the first caves were discovered in the early 1900s, these paintings were thought by some art historians to be modern fakes; how could primitive people create such beautiful works of art? However, it was soon realized they were authentic, and represented some of the most-remarkable examples of impressionistic art ever produced. Several caves (e.g., Lascaux in France and Altamira in Spain) have been designated World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. Chauvet Cave in France, dated at 35,000 years ago and only discovered in 1994, represents a veritable zoo display of native animals so beautifully executed that it has been described as the “birthplace of art.”

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I asked Winnipeg mural artists Mandy van Leeuwen and Michel St. Hilaire to work with me to capture within the mural 15 species typically represented in these remarkable caves. Images of cave lions appear in a number of sites, such as the “Chamber of Felines” at Lascaux, which depicts several speared lions, one bleeding from the mouth. A search on the topic of cave paintings on Google (e.g., Wikipedia article on “Cultural Depictions of Lions”) will reveal an astonishing variety of fantastic Paleolithic animal art. With the huge mural in full view, visitors will be asked if they can identify the following animals:

  • Cave Lion (Panthera leo spelaeus), Cave Bear (Ursus spelaeus), Woolly Mammoth (Mammothus primigenius),
  • Woolly Rhinoceros (Coelodonta antiquitatis), Modern Horse (Equus caballus), Steppe Bison (Bison priscus)
  • Aurochs (Bos primigenius), Alpine Ibex (Capra ibex), Giant Deer (Megaloceros giganteus), Red Deer (Cervus elaphus)
  • Caribou (Rangifer tarandus), Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar), Stag Beetle (Lucanus cervus), Owl and butterfly (species unknown)

Sadly, most of these species were driven into extinction by 10,000 years ago due to rapid climate/ecosystem changes and hunting by people, but a few have survived to this day, and are found both in the wild and in zoos.

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Although the Lion had evolved in Africa (as evidenced by Tanzanian fossils) by 3.5 million years ago, it diversified into various races as it spread over temporary land bridges into Eurasia, North America and northwestern South America. In fact, this species had the largest-known distribution of any large mammal and was common throughout the western and southern halves of our continent until only 10,000 years ago. The American Lion (Pantera leo atrox) was the largest cat that ever walked the earth – at least a third larger (up to 380 kg; 838 lbs) than the African and Asiatic races of recent times. As I write this, I am looking at a beautiful skull replica of this massive species, and it is measures 46 x 27 cm. Few zoo visitors are familiar with this fascinating story.
Going back farther in time, the lion and other big cats have played significant roles in the lives of our species and in about 20 other extinct members of the human family. For six million years, big cats have been both fearsome predators of humans, and major competitors for available game. People have demonstrated a love-hate relationship with the majestic lion, ranging from treating it as a pet to destroying every individual possible and neglecting its conservation. Originally numbering in the millions over its vast world-wide range, this species continues in a precipitous decline, directly related to human over-population (persecution, habitat competition, and disease). Fewer than 18,000 survive in Africa and 300 in India, and some biologists fear the species will be exterminated from the wild well before the end of the century — all the more reason for zoos to press onward with public education and with spearheading conservation measures.
A zoo/aquarium setting is a wonderful space to explore traditional and new interpretive techniques, adapted from museums, art galleries, and nature and science centers. Combining live animals in naturalistic backgrounds, themed trails, fossil and human artifacts (real or images), inter-active games, videos, computer stations, and other concepts add so much more to a facility visit. They intrigue various age groups and help attract repeat visitation because there is always something new to see and do. As a former curator and director of a major provincial museum and a national nature center, I have seen how successful an exhibit can be when augmented by exciting supportive materials and techniques.
Zoos and aquariums also have an enviable interpretive advantage in that they can show living, active species (not just images and objects) – the next best thing to being in the wildest places on earth. Visitors to the new exhibit at the Assiniboine Park Zoo will not only marvel at a lion family, but will learn so much more about these amazing cats. After all, lions were formerly and still are found outside Africa, and in recent prehistoric times (until 11,500 to 10,000 years ago) they were part of Canada’s native fauna, competing for big-game prey with the Sabretooth cat (Smilodon fatalis), the American cheetah (Miracinonyx trumani) and its close relative the puma (Puma concolor), and with the growing population of recent human immigrants from Asia.

This article appears in the April Newsletter of the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

 

Is the Assiniboine Park Zoo Accredited? October 8, 2009

Filed under: CAZA,Exhibits,Uncategorized — Scott Gray @ 11:13 am
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The Assiniboine Park Zoo is a proud accredited member of the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which is at non-profit organization established to promote the welfare of animals and encourage the advancement of education, conservation and science.

www.caza.ca

Here is a list of all of the CAZA Institutional Members across the country.

British Columbia:

  • British Columbia Wildlife Park
  • Greater Vancouver Zoo
  • Kicking Horse Grizzly Bear Refuge
  • Mountain View Conservation & Breeding Centre Soc.
  • Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre

Alberta:

  • Calgary Zoo, Botanical Garden & Prehistoric Park
  • Marine Life Department, West Edmonton Mall
  • Valley Zoo & John Janzen Nature Centre

Saskatchewan:

  • Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park and Zoo

Manitoba:

  • Assiniboine Park Zoo

Ontario:

  • African Lion Safari
  • Bowmanville Zoological Park
  • Indian River Reptile Zoo
  • Jungle Cat World Inc.
  • Marine Land of Canada Inc.
  • Riverview Park and Zoo
  • Safari Niagara
  • Toronto Zoo

Québec:

  • Aquarium du Québec
  • Biodôme de Montréal
  • Ecomuseum
  • Parc Safari (2002) Inc.
  • Société Zoologique de Granby Inc.
  • Zoo Sauvage de St. Felicien

New Brunswick:

  • Cherry Brook Zoo Inc.
    Magnetic Hill Zoo