"Dad! Look at the size of that grizzly bear! Do you think his teeth are as big as his claws?"
My teenage daughter quickly hushes her younger brother. She then continues to explain how this once wild bear is now a full-time resident at the Calgary Zoo. Her class had a fieldtrip here last week. The Canadian Wilds exhibit – home of Skoki the bear – was the highlight.
A Wildlife Lesson
On previous zoo visits, I educated my children on animal behaviour and habitat. So it’s with a sense of fatherly pride that I now receive a lesson from my eldest. I learn that some of the zoo’s animals in the wild need help from the human species for survival. With the Canadian Rockies and its abundance of wildlife only an hour’s drive away, it’s great to know the zoo has ongoing conservation projects in partnership with the government and Parks Canada.
Grizzly Bears in the Wild
Grizzlies thrive in high mountain forests, alpine meadows and icefields where they can forage for shoots, roots, nuts and berries. Although the bears’ immense strength makes them excellent hunters, grizzlies prefer a primarily vegetarian diet. As I stand marvelling at this majestic creature, my daughter tells me the wild population is shrinking. Alberta’s rugged landscape is a haven for these grizzlies. It’s up to us, as visitors in their habitat, to keep them safe. The best way of doing this is by never feeding wildlife and eliminating access to human food sources.
Close Encounters with Canadian wildlife
We stroll along the forested pathway past cougars, black bears, moose, wood bison and bighorn sheep. I’ve spotted some of these animals in the backcountry before – happily, from a safe distance! Arriving at the Woodland Caribou exhibit, my lessons continue. I was surprised to learn that these reindeer relatives are a threatened species. Thankfully through the zoo’s breeding programme, it’s anticipated that some of the offspring will be introduced into the wild.
A Rare Sighting
Another conservation programme here is for the endangered whooping crane. Seeing these graceful birds up close is a rare opportunity as there are less than 500 remaining in the wild. So your chances of seeing one in a natural setting – like Wood Buffalo National Park where the last migratory flock nests – even from the other end of a pair of binoculars are slim. Today, due to efforts from organisations like the Calgary Zoo, their numbers are significantly greater than in the 1940s when there were less than two dozen left.