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The Calgary Zoo announces new conservation centre

By Mah Noor, September 7, 2021—

The Calgary Zoo announced the beginning of the construction of a new Wildlife Conservation Centre in June, earlier this year. The new centre, located south of Strathmore, will be critical for the continuation and introduction of breeding programs for endangered and at-risk species. 

In 1984, the Calgary Zoo opened the Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre, an off-site facility closed off to the public. This facility allowed the Calgary Zoo to introduce and develop programs to protect endangered and at-risk Canadian species, such as the burrowing owl, Vancouver Island marmot, whooping crane and several others. 

In recent years, the property that this Conservation Centre stands on has become increasingly surrounded due to the expansion of urban development, making the area busier with more activity. 

The need for a new facility had been slowly building for about a decade before the planning became more accelerated in the past few years due to the crowding of development in the area around the current Conservation Centre, the Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre.

The Calgary Zoo had begun looking for land almost six years ago and finally secured the land for the new centre around 2017. Construction for the new site was meant to start in early 2020 but unfortunately, due to the pandemic, this was delayed.

Despite these obstacles, construction at the new conservation centre is expected to wrap up early next year.

In an interview with the Gauntlet, Jamie Dorgan, director of animal care, health & welfare at the Calgary Zoo, shared his insight on what this new Wildlife Conservation Centre will bring.

“A lot of people think the Calgary Zoo is just an entertainment location, but our number one focus is conservation and wildlife,” said Dorgan.

By choosing a spot that is much less surrounded by people, the Calgary Zoo is hopeful that with 300 acres it will be able to stay isolated to give the animals the space and privacy that they need to thrive and be properly prepared to be safely reintroduced back into the wild once they are ready.

“It’s super critical to us that we have a direct line with supporting the species — wanting to share those stories with visitors so they become as attached to conservation as we are,” Dorgan said.

He shared that a large portion of the zoo’s funding comes from their visitors. By purchasing entry tickets and spending money at the zoo’s various concession stands, visitors actively contribute to help fund the many conservation efforts and projects that support the preservation of at-risk and endangered species that go on behind the scenes at the Calgary Zoo and the Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre. Even though many visitors are not consciously thinking about the conservation work that the Calgary Zoo does, it is a significant part of their mission and focus.

While it is similar in size to the previous Conservation Centre, the new facility has much more usable space and allows for the potential for expansion and growth in the future when other programs may be in need. 

Additions to the new facility will include improved animal habitats for burrowing owls, greater sage-grouse, Vancouver Island marmots, whooping cranes, Northern leopard frogs, expanded and purpose-built paddocks, pastures and shelters for hoofstock and accommodations for resident animal care staff and a veterinary clinic.

“Currently we’re mainly focused on moving programs such as the whooping crane program — [with] hopes of expanding the capacity to incorporate which species are in need for our site,” said Dorgan.

For now, the Calgary Zoo is mainly focused on shifting it’s existing programs over to the new facility, starting with it’s Vancouver Island marmot and burrowing owl programs before moving onto the rest. 

It is often a tough balancing act as the Calgary Zoo tries it’s best to show off the work that they are doing while also making sure that the conservation programs centering around reintroduction are done in an isolated enough matter to allow them to be successful. 

“We are always working on trying to share the story and the message with Calgarians so people know when they come to the zoo they are supporting wild-life conservation, not just going out for a nice day with their families,” Dorgan said.

As with the previous conservation breeding facility, this new facility will not be open to the general public.

For more information on the new Wildlife Conservation Centre, click here. For information about the Calgary Zoo, click here.

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