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


Million $ Announcement for Assiniboine Park April 23, 2010

Filed under: Assiniboine Park,Exhibits — Scott Gray @ 11:02 am
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Hartley Richardson, Chair of the Assiniboine Park Conservancy’s Board of Directors, along with park staff and management were on hand this morning to hear Charleswood MP Steven Fletcher and Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz announce new funding.

A little more than $4.6 million will be going to spruce up the children’s play area at Assiniboine Park, along with the ever popular skating pond. Plans call for landscaping, water and sand play areas and tree forts. The Duck Pond will also be expanded for skaters and a naturalized wetland system in summer months.

Fletcher said Ottawa is contributing $1 million towards the renewal project.


“It will be a magical place,” said city businessman Hartley Richardson.

Work is to start immediately on the Assiniboine Park projects, Richardson said. “It’s a real shot in the arm,” he said of the funding.  “We won’t let you down.”

To read more on the projects, please visit: http://www.assiniboinepark.ca/mnufuture-vision


Musk Ox March 9, 2010

Filed under: Zoo Animals,Zoo Knew — Scott Gray @ 8:19 pm
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This past Sunday on CJOB’s Zoo Knew, Chris and I talked about one of the best examples of an animal that is adapted to Arctic’s harsh winter environment, the musk ox. In case you missed it, here are some of the things we talked about.


Currently we have 2.2 musk ox (Ovibos moschatus) on display at the Assiniboine Park Zoo. This includes one bull, two cows, and a young male born last summer.

Diet: Lichens, sedges, mosses, grasses and flowering plants when available in the wild. Their zoo diet is alfalfa, hay and ruminant pellets.

Predators: Wolves and (sometimes) bears

Average lifespan: 12 to 20 years

Height at shoulder: 4 to 5 ft

Average Weight: 225 to 365 kg  (500 to 800 lbs)

  • Females average 90 kg less than males

Body Length: 2 – 2.45 m  (6.6 – 8 ft)

Size at Birth: 18 inches high and 25 -30 lbs


Population and Distribution: Musk ox are considered a species of Least Concern by the IUCN with a world population of <120,000.

  • Canadian Arctic: 85,000
  • Greenland: 20,000
  • Introduced populations also occur in Svalbard, Alaska, Russia and Norway (~10,000)


Hair: The Inuit call musk ox by the name omingmak, which means “the animal with skin like a beard”.

Musk ox are renouned for their hair. They have a course outer layer of long hair that becomes a long shaggy coat (or skirt). This outer layer can grow to nearly a metre (3 ft) in length for the winter, longer than any other mammal. Musk ox have a second layer of soft woolly underfur. Called quviut (“KIV-ee-it”), it is eight times warmer than sheep’s wool and finer than cashmere.

Musk ox are often mistaken for bison, yak and even cattle (at least they are when I’ve taken tour groups around the zoo). And while these comparisons are superficially understandable, they are in fact more closely related to sheep and goats.


References: National Geographic Canada, Hinterland Who’s Who, World Association of  Zoos and Aquariums

Compiled by Scott Gray, Zoological Society of Manitoba


Musk ox Interpretive Sign: http://assiniboinepark.ca/media/animals/pdf/Muskox.pdf (please note that this sign is now a little out of date)

The Inuit call musk ox by the name omingmak, which means “the animal with skin like a beard”.

Animal Shipments February 24, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized,Zoo Animals — Scott Gray @ 8:20 am

I’m sometimes asked, by people on one of our guided zoo tours or even when I’m out in the community, where the zoo’s animals go in the winter. Usually this is a question from someone that doesn’t visit very often or only thinks of the Assiniboine Park Zoo as a summer facility. In fact, the zoo is open every day of the year, including holidays, and so the animals stay here year-round.

That’s not to say that animals shipments are rare, in fact, they happen all the time. The fall/winter season is often the busiest time for shipments as babies that have grown up at our zoo over the past summer or two are moved out to other facilities. Offspring naturally leave their parents in the wild, sometimes after just hours, others after a couple of years. And since we couldn’t house all of the animals born at the zoo year after year, some of them are moved to other facilities that have the room for them.

Here is an example of some of the animal movements going on this winter. A herd of 12 markhor are going to a zoo in Ontario; Arctic foxes and a lynx are moving to a wonderful facility in the Yukon;  a dromedary camel, Bennett’s wallabies and reindeer are moving to Ontario; a few red kangaroos are leaving for Ontario and Texas; crested screamers (large South American birds) are heading to Missouri; and some of our pronghorn are learning French for their trip to a zoo in Quebec.

All animals must go through a month of quarantine, both here at our zoo and again at the zoo they are moving to to insure that they all have a clean bill before moving in with new neighbours. And of course their are piles of travel documents filled out (often by several agencies and facilities) and numerous travel arrangements that must be made. Shipping animals to and from the zoo is a lot of work, often taking months to finalize, but it’s worth it when visitors get to see the animals in their new homes.

There will be more animal shipment news in the months to come. Stay tuned.

Scott G.


Canadian Lynx January 31, 2010

Filed under: Wild Cats,Zoo Animals,Zoo Knew — Scott Gray @ 7:37 pm
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Chris Reid and I talked about lynx this morning on our weekly radio segment called Zoo Knew (listen at 7:15 am every Sunday on CJOB 68 AM). Here is a quick summary:


We have six Canadian lynx at the Assiniboine Park Zoo. Our elder pair is a male named Oscar (born in 1994) and a female named Ella (born in 1993).

  • Lynx have a lifespan of 15 – 20 years.

Our breeding pair includes a male (born in 2004) named Bizhiw, which is a Cree word for “lynx” and a female (born in 2006) named Shy-anne.

Shy-anne and Bizhiw had four offspring in 2009. Each kitten was named, in Cree, after one of the four directions (east, west, …)


Canadian lynx (Lynx canadensis) are closely related to the bobcat (Lynx rufus), which we have also exhibited at the zoo for many years. Both species are related to the endangered Iberian lynx and to the Eurasian lynx.

Canadian lynx can be identified by their black-tipped ears, their short black-tipped tail, long gray fur, long tufts (ruff) of fur around their face and chin, feet covered with fur, a short body and long legs.


Canadian lynx are ambush predators, lying in wait at night for snowshoe hare, their favourite prey, to pass by.

Lynx are generally found in the boreal forests of Canada and Alaska as well as ranging the Rocky mountains.

Lynx Size:

  • Range in weight from 8 to 14 kg (males are larger)
  • Stand approximately 60 cm tall
  • Are approximately 90 cm long


Compiled by Scott Gray with references from Canadian Geographic, Hinterland Who’s Who and the book “Great Cats – Majestic Creatures of the Wild

Photo available here: http://assiniboinepark.ca/media/animals/pdf/Lynx_Can_23.75×18.pdf


Wolverines – Zoo Knew December 20, 2009

Filed under: Zoo Animals,Zoo Knew — Scott Gray @ 10:30 am
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Chris Reid and I talked this morning on the Weekend Wakeup Show on CJOB 68 about wolverines. As I mentioned on air, I try to provide some extra information on this blog about our weekly animal so remember to visit the site each week to learn more. On a side note, the Assiniboine Park Zoo’s wolverines are probably loving this mild winter weather. If you haven’t been to the zoo in a while, the Christmas break is a great time to do so.



We have 2.0 wolverines at the Assiniboine Park Zoo.

  • “Huey” was born in the wild Yukon and arrived at APZ in July 2002.
  • “Grizz” was born in 1999 at Yukon game farm, where he lived for three years. He spent the next seven at the St. Felicien Zoo, moving to our facility in June 2009.
  • The Assiniboine Park Zoo’s first wolverine was name Vishinski and he arrived at the zoo in 1952. The zoo has continuously had wolverines since 1978.
  • Six offspring have been sent to zoos throughout North America over the years including Minnesota, Grand Rapids, Pennsylvania and St Felicien.
  • The Assiniboine Park Zoo’s wolverines are not part of a Species Survival Program at the moment. The IUCN currently lists them as a species of Least Concern in most of the areas that they are found.

General Information:

  • Wolverines do not hibernate but they do den.
  • The wolverine is the largest member of the weasel family.
  • The wolverine is known as Canada’s “Hyena” because of its powerful jaws and large teeth are able to demolish frozen carrion and bone.
  • It has poor eyesight but an excellent sense of smell.
  • Wolverines have thick, dark, oily fur that is highly hydrophobic (“water repellent”), making it resistant to frost. This unfortunately makes them popular for hunting and trapping.
  • Wolverines have anal scent glands for marking territory and sexual signalling. From this potent smell they’ve been given the nickname “skunk bear“.
  • Wolverines communicate through vocalizations and scent marking.
  • Average lifespan of wolverines in the wild is 7 to 12 years.

Distribution and Habitat:

  • Wolverines are circumpolar.
  • Wolverines are sparsely distributed in Canada’s northern boreal forests, but are more plentiful on the tundra and at higher elevations in the Rockies.
  • They are native to the western United States (including Alaska), Canada, Russia, Finland, Estonia, Mongolia, China, Norway, and Sweden.

Natural Diet:

  • They are opportunistic scavengers feeding on carrion (various deer species, seal) whenever possible.
  • They will also hunt smaller prey (rodents, rabbits, ptarmigan)

Zoo Diet:

  • Raw meat, chickens, rabbit and rodents


  • Wolverines are stocky and muscular, with short legs, a broad rounded head, small eyes and short rounded ears.
  • It has broad five-toed paws and a plantigrade posture that help through deep snow. It resembles a small bear mixed with a ferret.

Body length: 65 – 87 cm (25 – 34 inches)

Tail length: ~25 cm (~10 inches)

Weight: 10–25 kg (22 – 55 lb).

  • Large males can weigh over 31 kg (70 lb)
  • Males are around 30 percent larger than the females. It is the largest of terrestrial mustelids.


Arkive, The Wolverine Foundation, IUCN, National Geographic and others

Compiled by Scott Gray, Jenna Harrison and Jesse Kindzierski; December 19, 2009


Arctic Fox – Zoo New Segment on CJOB December 7, 2009

Scott Gray and Chris Reid spoke about the Assiniboine Park Zoo’s Arctic foxes this past Sunday on the Weekend Wakeup Show at 7:15 am. We hope you’ll tune in every Sunday morning to listen to the show and our new zoo segment.

Arctic Fox

We currently have 2.3 Arctic foxes at the Assiniboine Park Zoo

  • In the zoo world, “2.3 foxes” is a quick way of saying two males and three females.
  • If young foxes were born (let’s pretend four of them) and zoo staff don’t yet know yet if they are male or female, they would say there are 0.0.4 with the .4 meaning unknown gender.
  • Another example: 3.5.1 means 3 males, 5 females and 1 unknown gender

All of our Arctic foxes arrived at the Assiniboine Park Zoo as pups in November 2003. Our two breeding pairs have had 28 offspring to date. These offspring have been shipped to zoos all over the world including Switzerland, France, and the US and throughout Canada.

Arctic Fox Litters:

  • Are very large – between 10 and 25 depending on lemming populations.
  • This is the largest litter size of all the carnivores
  • This species of fox becomes sexually mature at 9 to 10 months
  • Survival rate is low being about 25% for kits and 50% for adults

A Bit of Biology/Ecology:

  • There are 20 species of fox worldwide.
  • Arctic foxes live throughout the treeless Arctic and alpine tundra
  • Their circumpolar population is several hundred thousand. They are not yet part of an species survival program because of a relatively stable wild population.


  • Height: ~1 foot at the shoulder
  • Length: Average about 21 inches long in addition to an 11-inch tail
  • Weight: 6 to 11 lbs


Arctic foxes are opportunistic hunters, preying on lemmings, voles, squirrels, birds and their eggs, berries, hare and fish. They will also eat carrion, often scavenging scraps of meat from wolves and polar bears.

Cold Hardy Adaptations:

Arctic foxes were made for living in the cold.

  • They have short muzzles, short legs, and small ears, which reduces heat loss and the chance of frostbite.
  • Their metabolic rate only starts to increase at -50C and they begin to shiver at -70C.
  • They have three times as much underfur as the red fox.
  • They have densely furred feet pads, which helps prevent slipping and greatly increase warmth of the foot.
  • Their feet can remain just above freezing thanks to specialised muscles and blood flow (peripheral thermoregulation). Other animals, like caribou and some northern waterfowl have this feature where cold blood is warmed as it moves into the body.

Compiled by Scott Gray, Education Director, Zoological Society of Manitoba

References: WAZA, Woodland Park Zoo, Oppenheim Zoo, Detroit Zoo