Tails From The Zoo

Assiniboine Park – Naturally Educational September 29, 2010

Do you remember the first time you visited Assiniboine Park, the Zoo or the Conservatory? For a child, the thrill of a trip to the park, with its gardens, galleries, playgrounds, riparian forest, animals and open fields, is hard to forget. Assiniboine Park has dedicated itself to providing students of all ages with the highest quality environmental education programs in the province so those memories can continue.

The Assiniboine Park Zoo is Manitoba’s premiere location for animal based education. The Zoo’s Education Centre is designed to promote the concepts of endangered species and wildlife conservation through public education and hands-on, interactive learning. The Pavilion Gallery and Leo Mol Sculpture Garden are first-class locations for art education. The Assiniboine Park Conservatory is one of the most unique plant-based teaching facilities in Manitoba. The extensive living classrooms – the Herb Garden, the Abilities Garden, the English Gardens, the Tropical Palm House and Floral Display Atrium – provide a dynamic year-round setting for exciting lessons. And as always there are acres upon acres of natural beauty that Assiniboine Park freely offers to you to help green your mind, body and soul.

We specialize in walking and trolley tours along with one-of-a-kind programs and workshops on a huge range of themes. Bring your class or group to explore the wonders of the plant and animal worlds and explore the wonderfully expressive worlds of art and sculpture, food and cuisine, music and literacy while you’re here. We incorporate learning outcomes of Manitoba Education Citizenship and Youth curricula in science, social studies, language, recreation and the arts for pre-school to Senior 4 but you can also just come for the fun. A wide variety of teaching strategies are used to connect with many different learning styles from the naturalist to the interpersonal.

We are rededicating Assiniboine Park to providing programming that will create a lasting appreciation of the natural world and to inspire children to get out and be active all months of the year. Parents, teachers and group leaders can relax, knowing that the children are in a safe, playful environment with skilled instructors who truly enjoy working with young people.

Watch for our new Assiniboine Park Programming brochure, detailing all of our new and re-envisioned program options. We are excited about the many subtle and significant transformations that Assiniboine Park is undergoing and we welcome you to experience them with us.  Visit www.assiniboinepark.ca for a preview of our redevelopment.

Let your imagination run wild!

Scott Gray, Director of Park Programming


Zoo Vision Begins With Bears June 10, 2010

Plans for Phase 1 of the Assiniboine Park Zoo’s new Master Plan have got Manitobans all abuzz about the positive changes coming to Assiniboine Park. Construction plans for the first project were rolled out on Tuesday, June 8 for a new research and education centre called the International Polar Bear Conservation Centre.

Snow Turning to kick off construction

Polar bear rehabilitation, research and public education will be the focus of the first-of-its-kind, world-class International Polar Bear Conservation Centre.

Click here to see the new zoo plans : http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/making-room-for-polar-bears-95937289.html

Visit www.assiniboinepark.ca to learn all about the revisioning of Assiniboine Park.


Follow up with a bit more of the coverage we’ve received:

Winnipeg Sun: http://www.winnipegsun.com/news/winnipeg/2010/06/08/14315936.html

CBC News: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/manitoba/story/2010/06/08/mb-polar-bear-rescue-centre-winnipeg.html


The Ghosts of Madagascar May 2, 2010

Filed under: Extinction Crisis,Primates,Zoo Animals,Zoo Knew — Scott Gray @ 10:37 pm
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They go from completely motionless to full-out balls of boundless energy, bouncing from branch to branch in a split second. And a visit to the Assiniboine Park Zoo would not be complete without spending a little time at the Tropical House watching these prosimians parade through their exhibit with their tails held high.

Sadly though, the ghosts of the Madagascan forests are quickly living up to their name. Of the more than 70 species of lemur on the island of Madagascar, two-thirds are endangered with extinction. Lemur, which means ghost, is an apt name for these mysterious primates that are disappearing from their island home at an alarming rate. Thanks to deforestation by humans, lemurs have lost more than 90% of their forest home in the last 100 years. Add on the illegal pet trade and hunting for bushmeat, humans are dealing a death blow that many species will not survive.


Arguably the most well-known of the lemur species, the ring-tailed lemur (Lemur catta) was the focus of our discussions on Zoo Knew this morning. (Listen to CJOB’s Weekend Wake-up Show every Sunday at 7:15 am). The ring-tailed lemur, known for its black and white tail rings and black eye mask is the most common species exhibited in zoos around the world. Here are some fun facts that we discussed this morning, and some we didn’t get a chance to.


The Assiniboine Park Zoo currently displays nine primate species including three species of lemur. http://www.zoosociety.com/ZooAnimals_animalfacts.asp?L=1

Ring-tailed lemur



  • Ring-tailed lemurs have a long fox-like snout and a highly sensitive sense of smell.
  • Scent marking is extremely important to lemurs. They can pass on information to other members of their troop or other troops about their age, gender and social status.


  • Social grooming is an important bonding tool for many primates and lemurs are no exception.
  • Ring-tails have a special claw on their second toe and a tooth comb (on their lower jaw) to aid in grooming.


  • Ring-tails are omnivorous, eating items that are seasonally available.
  • They eat many types of fruits, flowers, grasses, leaves (especially tamarind) as well as sap.
  • They are also opportunistic hunters, eating spiders, insects and lizards when they can catch them.


  • Mouse lemurs (approx. six species) are the smallest lemurs, weighing less than a pound.
  • The indri is the largest of the lemurs at more than two feet tall and approximately six pounds. Oddly enough they have the shortest, stubbiest tail of all the lemurs.
  • The ring-tailed lemur is about the size of a house cat and it’s tail is longer than its body.



  • Male and female ring-tailed lemurs look nearly identical although the male will often have a heavier head and bulkier shoulders.
  • Lemurs live in a matriarchal society, with the females dominating the group.


Randomly Fun Facts:

  • Ring-tailed lemurs are diurnal, meaning that they are active during the day.
  • Lemurs are hunted by hawks, domestic dogs and cats and humans.
  • Lemurs tend to live an average of 17 years in the wild and 20 to 25+ years in zoos.
  • Ring-tails spend more time on the ground than any other species of lemur.
  • A group of lemurs is call a troop. Troops average 18 individuals.


Compiled by Scott Gray – Assiniboine Park Zoo


Solar Powered Trash Compactor at the Zoo April 26, 2010

The Zoological Society of Manitoba recently unveiled a new solar-powered trash compactor at the Assiniboine Park Zoo. The bin is adjacent to the Animal Tracks Cafe and will hold five times a much garbage as traditional garbage cans. This helps us to reduce the number of vehicle trips associated with frequent trash collection as well as reduce litter from overflow and reduce issues with wasps in the summer because the new bin is covered.

“In keeping with our commitment to conservation efforts, we are very please to accept Waste Managment’s donation of a solar power compator”, said Tricialynn Zacharias in last week’s press release. “It means a better environment for our zoo animals, staff and visitors.”

Watch a video of the bin’s use here: http://www.thinkgreen.com/bbsmall

Indeed, Waste Management’s generosity to donate the bin, and a companion recycling bin, is significant as the unit normally retails for $3,700.


The Zoological Society and Assiniboine Park Zoo are greening things in a number of other ways.

Zoo Gift Shop:

  • Using OXO biodegradable bags in our Zoo Gift Shop
  • Selling “Poo Poo Paper”  products, 100% organic cotton tshirts, purses made of bamboo and coconut and bamboo xylophones.


  • Compost bins are used to turn zoo classroom and zoo restaurant food scraps into soil.
  • Large scale composting of organic materials like plant material, hay and bedding, and animal manure saves hundreds of tons of rubbish from entering landfills.


  • We actively solicit public donations of used items like fridges, ladders, bicycles, towels, and animal equipment for reuse throughout the zoo to reduce cost and cut back on consumerism.
  • Branches and small trees are chipped and the wood chips then used for enclosures and pathways.

Reducing Our Consumption and Our Impact:

  • Both our Gift Shop and Café use Bio-Life cleaning products that are plant based (renewable), biodegradable and phosphate-free.
  • These greener cleaners are being phased-in zoo-wide as is the use of compact fluorescent bulbs and other energy saving devices.
  • Timers and sensors are installed in offices, buildings and exhibits so that lights are not left on.
  • We accept donations of fruit, veggies  and other foodstuffs, material and other pertinent items from companies to assist with costs and so the items  don’t end up in the landfill.
  • Newsletters, renewal and registration forms are emailed instead of sent by regular post whenever possible.
  • If brochures, newsletters or marketing materials are produced, they are printed on 100% post-consumer paper with vegetable based inks.
  • We use electric golf carts and tour trolleys and staff get around the zoo on bikes.
  • We support and participate in anti-litter campaigns.


These are just some of the ways we are trying to make a difference. We have plans for more solar panel use in buildings, as well as geo-thermal for the zoo.


Kookaburras – The Bushman’s Clock April 18, 2010

Filed under: Birds,Zoo Animals,Zoo Knew — Scott Gray @ 6:24 am
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Chris Reid and I just finished talking about the kookaburra on Zoo Knew (Sundays at 7:15 am on CJOB 68) . These birds can be seen in the Tropical House at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.

Kookaburra (aka: Laughing kookaburra): Is sometimes called the Bushman’s Clock because of its habit of calling in the morning and evening. Their call sounds like loud, raucous laughter.


Laughing Kookaburra

The (laughing) kookaburra

Food: The kookaburra is a carnivorous bird and is known as a stand and wait hunter.

  • The kookaburra eats both invertebrates (worms, insects, snails) and vertebrates (birds, rodents, lizards, amphibians and snakes)
  • Small prey is crushed while larger prey is killed by bashing it against at branch or by dropping from a height.


Size: Length: 45 cm  (18 in),  Weight: 0.5 kg  (1.1 lbs)

  • The kookaburra is gray-brown above and gray-white on the head and underparts. It has a dark eye stripe and a barred tail. It has a long, stout (broad), dagger-like bill. It has a large head, a stubby tail and short legs.


Habitat: The kookaburra lives away from water in woodland and scrub. It is a tree (or wood) kingfisher,  which is the most numerous of the three families of birds in the kingfisher group. The other two families are the river kingfishers and the lake kingfishers.

Distribution: South and East Australia. Introduced to Tasmania and other islands.


Find out more about the Assiniboine Park Zoo’s kookaburras here: http://www.assiniboinepark.ca/media/animals/pdf/Laughing%20Kookaburra.pdf


Compiled by Scott Gray, Zoo Education Director

References: Birds of the World (Paragon Publishing, 2005), the National Zoo, http://www.avianweb.com.


(Woody) The Pileated Woodpecker April 17, 2010

Filed under: Birds,Zoo Animals,Zoo Knew — Scott Gray @ 8:54 pm
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Chris Reid and I talked about the pileated woodpecker last Sunday on Zoo Knew (Sundays at 7:15 am on CJOB AM)

  • The pileated woodpecker, made famous by inspiring the cartoon character Woody the Woodpecker, is Canada’s largest and North America’s second largest woodpecker species.
  • Pileated woodpeckers range is length from 40 – 50 cm (16 to 19.5 in), with a wing length of 68 – 76 cm.
  • Pileated woodpeckers are mostly black when at rest but show a burst white underwings when in flight.
  • The sexes are similar in appearance, although the males have a larger red crest and a red moustache.


  • The pileated woodpecker is an uncommon species, found in coniferous, mixed and hardwood forests. It prefers dense, mature forest but has begun to frequent woodlots in the past couple of decades.
  • Pileated woodpeckers excavate characteristically oval holes in trees to find ants and other wood-boring insects (and their larvae). They will also eat berries and nuts.


  • The pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) is related to other Manitoba woodpecker species like the more common yellow-bellied sapsucker, the downy woodpecker, the hairy woodpecker, the red-headed woodpecker and the northern flicker.


For more on some of the wonderful birds that can be seen (wild) at the Assiniboine Park, please visit: http://www.assiniboinepark.ca/index.php?option=com_birds&task=birds&Itemid=12

To hear this woodpecker’s call, please visit: http://www.assiniboinepark.ca/media/birds/P/Pileated%20Woodpecker.mp3


Compiled by Scott Gray with references from Peterson Field Guides (Eastern Birds), Manitoba Birds (Andy Bezener & Ken De Smet), and The Field Guide to the Birds of North America (National Geographic Society).


White Bison Calf Donated to Sioux Valley Dakota Nation April 3, 2010

Filed under: Presentations,Special Events,Zoo Animals,Zoo Knew — Scott Gray @ 4:08 pm
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The Assiniboine Park Zoo donated a white bison (aka white buffalo) to the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation on Monday, March 29. The 11 month old female and her brown brother (born in April of 2009) were gifted in a ceremony witnessed by Mayor Sam Katz, Chief Donna Elk, Elder Roger Armitte, along with members of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Dakota Oyate reservation, Sioux Valley, Assiniboine Park Zoo officials and invited guests. The white bison is considered a strong spiritual symbol denoting renewal. Arvol Looking Horse from Green Grass, S.D., the 19th generation carrier of the sacred bundle and pipe believed to have been given to the Dakota people many centuries ago by the White Buffalo Calf Woman was also in attendance.


Bison video courtesy of the Winnipeg Free Press: http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid1529573193?bctid=74714257001)

Read the CBC‘s coverage of the friendship ceremony here: http://www.cbc.ca/canada/manitoba/story/2010/03/29/mb-white-bison-calf-winnipeg.html


Blizzard, the Assiniboine Park Zoo’s white bison, came to us in March 2006 and instantly became a huge draw for interested zoo visitors and, more importantly, for Aboriginal people. Here is a press clipping from the summer of ’06.

Top-secret mission brings rare white bison to Winnipeg zoo

WINNIPEG – A rare white bison made his official debut yesterday at the Assiniboine Park Zoo after a top-secret mission to bring him to Canada in recognition of his spiritual significance to aboriginal people.

By The Ottawa Citizen June 6, 2006

WINNIPEG – A rare white bison made his official debut yesterday at the Assiniboine Park Zoo after a top-secret mission to bring him to Canada in recognition of his spiritual significance to aboriginal people.

Blizzard marched solemnly before the cameras, displaying the instincts of a show horse on parade. He arrived in a blizzard in March from an anonymous American rancher and the zoo kept him a secret from the public until yesterday.

His coming is especially significant to First Nations because of a 2,000-year-old legend of the Lakota, a northern plains First Nation, which tells of a mystical maiden who appeared bearing a sacred pipe she used to teach the people to pray.

On leaving, she promised to return some day and usher in a time of great peace. As she moved away, the maiden turned into a white buffalo calf.

Scientists, who say the proper name is bison and not buffalo, say a white calf is born only once in 15 million births. The animals do not have albinism — their colour comes from a rare surfacing of a recessive gene that goes back in time thousands of years.

One of the last was a calf named Miracle who drew pilgrimages of aboriginal people to her owner’s ranch in Wisconsin a decade ago.

Zookeepers are poised for pilgrimages to Winnipeg. Never before has a white bison been linked to Manitoba, which holds the bison as its provincial symbol, said zoo curator Bob Wrigley.

© (c) CanWest MediaWorks Publications Inc.


For information on Blizzard, please visit: http://assiniboinepark.ca/media/animals/pdf/White%20Buffalo.pdf

To read the story of the White Buffalo Calf Woman, please visit: http://www.naturenorth.com/Zoo/White_buffalo_rightside.pdf