October 2015

This year the Calgary Zoo offered Inspire members the opportunity to visit the zoo’s ranch just outside of the city. The Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre currently houses moose, elk, caribou, deer, whooping cranes, sand hill cranes, Przewalski’s horses and Vancouver Island marmots. This rare tour was a chance to see another side of the Calgary Zoo and in particular learn about some of their breeding programs.

Elk at the Calgary Zoo Ranch

Grady and Daddy checking out a young male Elk with full antlers and an older female elk

The tour included about 20 people, 5 of which were children. The adult-only tour had taken place the day before. We came prepared for the 1/2 acre walk around the ranch with our PiggyBack Rider and made sure to wear good, closed toed shoes. There was one unfortunate woman who showed up in flip flops! She got a bit of a surprise when it came time to dip your shoes in the disinfecting foot bath to avoid cross-contamination.

They did allow people to drive down to the clinic if they couldn’t do the 10-minute walk, however, we chose to walk as it was a lovely day and so nice to stroll in the fall colours past the pond. The first stop was the clinic where we got to see the quarantine stables, surgery suite and crane egg incubators. The Calgary Zoo no longer raises the whooping crane chicks on site but rather ships all of the eggs to another facility with the manpower to handle the long hours required in caring for the eggs and chicks. It was great to learn about and see up close how the zoo is really working to bring species back from the brink of extinction. I never knew how challenging it was to raise species to return to the wild until we went on this tour.

It was neat to see the hoofed Canadian species up close and learn about the Zoo’s newest initiative to start a caribou breeding program which aims to help replenish the numbers of this threatened species. I mean we’ve got to do our part to make sure Santa always has some reindeer right?

Marmot Condos at the Calgary Zoo Ranch

Outside the Marmot-condos

The Calgary Zoo is very involved in breeding the Vancouver Island Marmot for a return to the wild. They have converted some of their “cranedominiums” into housing for the marmots. It was crazy to see how old the technology is that they use to monitor the marmots; they are still using VCRs and VHS tapes! So if you’ve got a spare million or so laying around the zoo could certainly use it to upgrade their electronics! The ranch was started in the 80’s and hasn’t seen major improvements since then.

From the marmots, we moved on to Przewalkski’s horses which are the only truly wild species of horse left on the planet. You might remember these horses being on display at the zoo where the new carousel is now. The horses were moved to the ranch for a specific breeding program where the male horses are returned to the wild in Mongolia to go forth and multiply.

They really are beautiful horses! They were very curious about us and came right up to the fence for some great photos. It was so tempting to pet them like you would any other horse, but unlike on a regular ranch, these horses get minimal human contact so that they retain their wild instincts.

Przewalski’s horses at the Calgary Zoo Ranch

Grady and I by the herd of female Przewalski’s horses

Our last stop was the remaining “cranedominiums” where the breeding pairs of whooping cranes and sand hill cranes live. Did you know cranes breed for life? And just like people, some cranes have a hard time finding a life partner so will remain perpetually single. The ranch has one such male crane that just doesn’t get along with the ladies but is kept for his other “contributions” to the breeding program.

The calls of the cranes were really beautiful to hear and it was a unique opportunity to see them up close. But you have to be careful because they can be vicious with their long beaks as one lady found out when she didn’t heed the curator’s warnings; one of the sand hill cranes popped its beak through the fence and gave her quite the surprise!

Crane-dominium at the Calgary Zoo Ranch

This is the inside of the crane’s enclosure where they spend the long winter in this room with their mate. Do you think you could spend all winter in one room with your spouse?

It was a unique experience that I would recommend for people looking for more in-depth knowledge into the zoo’s Canadian species breeding program. It was not the best tour for kids or people with mobility issues. We used the PiggyBack Rider a lot as Grady did not find the curator engaging. It was great because he could get up and down; as well as get a view from up high. It will be nice for our regular visits to the Calgary Zoo too.

If I had to make one critique, it would be to say I really think the zoo should look into hiring guides that are really engaging and good public speakers; as much as you want an expert you really want a great storyteller more. I think the zoo has great stories to share but they don’t always have the best person weaving the tale for visitors. Otherwise, animal enthusiasts or older children who like to immerse themselves in learning will find the zoo’s Inspire member’s tours very educational.

What do you think Grady and I should try next with our Zoo membership? What is your favourite thing about your zoo membership?