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.

 

Mayor Officially Welcomes Zoo’s Lions June 15, 2010

Thanks to ChrisD.ca for the following video from today’s press conference:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0RsRyhdw58Q

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From the City of Winnipeg’s Press Desk:

The Mane Attraction: Zoo visitors will be excited to hear that lions are now back on display at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.

While the Zoo has displayed a number of lions over its long history, a decision was reached in 1981 to discontinue with this species due to inadequate winter facilities. Continuing public enquiries about lions prompted Zoo officials to bring in a family of lions on a temporary basis in 2005, and visitors were enthralled by the King of Beasts. Consequently, the Assiniboine Park Zoo and the Zoological Society of Manitoba began planning a major renovation of the former Giant Panda building to permanently house a pair of lions.

The Zoological Society contributed $350,000 to help upgrade the facility, and to create a new interpretive hall and displays, which could also serve as an attractive space for educational activities and meetings. The displays focus on the lion’s natural history, family life, current status, how human cultures have viewed the lion over the millennia, and the ancestry of big cats and Sabretooths around the world.

The young lions have now arrived from a zoo in Ontario, and are undergoing a period of introduction. The 4-year old female is named Kaya and the 3-year-old male is Xerxes, who has not yet developed his full mane. This beautiful Pavilion of the lions gives visitors an idea of the exciting developments being planned at the Zoo and other locations at the Assiniboine Park.

Additional background:

  • Although the lion evolved in Africa 3.5 million years ago, it diversified into various races as it spread over temporary land bridges into Eurasia, North America and South America.
  • This species had the largest-known distribution of any large mammal and was common throughout the Americas (including Manitoba) until it died out here 10,000 years ago.
  • The American lion (Panthera leo atrox) was the largest cat that ever walked the earth – at least a third larger (up to 380 kg; 838 lbs) than today’s African lion.
  • Originally numbering in the millions over its vast world range, the lion has been persecuted for thousands of years, and currently fewer than 18,000 survive in Africa and 300 in India. There is concern that the species may be eliminated from the wild by the end of the century.

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Check out Chris D’s sea eagle video too:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8WheJCOgfl8

 

Zoo’s New Young Lions Impress Visitors June 9, 2010

Filed under: Exhibits,New Animals/Births,Uncategorized,Wild Cats — Scott Gray @ 9:49 pm
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The Assiniboine Park Zoo’s new young lion pair are proving to be a real hit with visitors. Combined with an all new interpretive building, the lion pavilion is expected to be a busy place this summer.  Xerxes and Kaya are still getting used to each other but have definitely claimed their new home as a great place to roam.

Our young male explores the trees outside

Male lion

Our young female establishes her space in the inside viewing area

Female lion

Photos by Darlene Stack, Zoo Photographer

 

Planning to welcome African cats April 15, 2010

No Asian lions for Winnipeg zoo

Planning to welcome African cats, instead

By: Carol Sanders, Winnipeg Free Press

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WONDERING where the Asian lions are?

Well, the pair the Assiniboine Park Zoo was preparing to welcome this summer aren’t coming.

“Although we did our best to enter the Asian lion breeding programs in Europe and India, we were informed there is a waiting list of dozens of zoos ahead of us,” zoo spokesman Dr. Bob Wrigley said.

“The animals are so rare, and the breeding so carefully controlled among participant zoos, that it will likely be many years before we are selected.”

Now, the zoo is planning to get some equally majestic, albeit less-rare and exotic, African lions, he said.

There are just 350 Asiatic lions left in the wild — all of them in the Gir National Park and Lion Sanctuary in northern India.

The animals were almost wiped out by sport hunting over the last two centuries, the Asiatic Lion Information Centre reports.

When the lion hunt was outlawed in the 1900s, the greatest threat came from the destruction of habitat. Vast tracts of jungle forest were cleared for timber to sell and to make way for the increasing human population. To bolster the endangered Asiatic lion population, co-operative inter-zoo breeding programs were set up. In 1990, two Asiatic lion couples from India were brought to the London Zoo, the Asiatic Lion Information Centre said. Zoos in Zurich and Helsinki received lions in 1991 and 1992 respectively. By the end of 1996 some 12 zoos were participating in the Asiatic lion breeding program. Ten years later, there were 99 lions at 36 zoos, the information centre said.

The Zoological Society of Manitoba was hoping Winnipeg’s zoo might be the first in North America to house Asiatic lions.

Last year, it decided to spend $1 million to convert the unused 20-year-old panda bear enclosure into a home for Asian lions. It was seen as an investment in promoting conservancy and education, and a way to boost zoo attendance. The warm-weather cats needed space to roam and a cosy abode in cold winters. Later this spring, the renovated panda pad will house a pair of African lions, said Wrigley. “…We have made great progress on the lion exhibit — including the indoor exhibit area, a beautiful interpretive space and renovations to the outside enclosure.”

Around five years ago, the zoo had some African lions who had cubs. Nearly half a million visitors flocked to the zoo to see the king of beasts. They are no longer at the zoo. “I believe the new lions will be a real hit,” he said.

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 10, 2010 B2

 

Mural of the Cave Lions

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.

 

Cougars at Assiniboine Park Zoo February 22, 2010

Filed under: Wild Cats,Zoo Animals,Zoo Knew — Scott Gray @ 10:05 am
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Chris Reid and I talked yesterday (at 7:15 am on CJOB 68’s Weekend Wake-Up Show) about cougars on Zoo Knew. With Ayla the cougar‘s recent passing, we felt it was appropriate to highlight these wonderful animals. You can still see Ayla’s partner Max in his enclosure, located in the North American animal area. The Assiniboine Park Zoo is open all winter from 10 am to 4 pm.

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Here are a few fun fast facts that we didn’t have a chance to include in our chat:

  • Cougars are the second largest cat in the Americas. The jaguar is the largest.
  • Cougars are the largest of the three cats that live in Canada (including the lynx and the bobcat).
  • Cougars have the largest range of all terrestrial mammals in the western hemisphere

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A Cat of Many Names:

The cougar’s scientific name, Puma concolor, literally means cat of one colour. Regionally though, it is known by many common names, depending on local culture and legend.

  • The Maliseet of New Brunswick call the cougar “pi-twal,” meaning “the long-tailed one.”
  • The English name “cougar” and the French “couguar,” now widely used in Canada, were adapted from the Brazilian native name “cuguacuarana.”
  • The name “mountain lion” is extensively used in the western United States.
  • “Puma” is the native Peruvian name.
  • Other names you may have heard include: mountain lion, Mexican lion, deer tiger, mountain screamer, Florida panther, painter and catamount.

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Speed:

  • The cougar can run as fast as 55 to 72 km/h (35 to 45 mi/h)
  • By comparison, the house cat = 50km and the cheetah = 100km

Diet:

  • Cougars are obligate carnivores, like all cats, feeding only on meat.
  • Cougars hunt mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, moose calves, and in the west, bighorn sheep
  • Cougars will also eat a large array of available prey species if they are available. These include birds and other mammals, such as the beaver, snowshoe hare, ground squirrel, and rodents.

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Big Air:

  • Cougars have an exceptional vertical leap (up), reported at 5.4 m (18 ft) .
  • Cougars can jump horizontally (along the ground) at nearly 12 m (40 ft) from a standing position.

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References:

 

Ayla the Cougar Passes Away February 9, 2010

Filed under: Wild Cats,Zoo Animals — Scott Gray @ 12:01 pm
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One of the Assiniboine Park Zoo’s popular cats, Ayla the female cougar, had to be put down due to health complications of old age last week.

Ayla, at nearly 20 years of age, had a good long life here at the zoo. She spent here first 14 years with Riel (aka Buddy). Max, her mate since 2004, will certainly notice her passing and the zoo will be looking to acquire a replacement for Ayla. Ayla originally came from the Edmonton Valley Zoo and came to the zoo here in Winnipeg in 1991. Max arrived from a zoo in Ontario in 2004.

Cougars (which are also known as puma, mountain lions, catamounts and/or panthers) are normally solitary in the wild. In captivity however, cats are often kept in pairs or small groups to provide them with companionship. Max and Ayla were not part of a breeding program.

Ayla is will always be prominently featured on our cougar interpretive sign, which you can see here: http://assiniboinepark.ca/media/animals/pdf/cougar.pdf