I am a former journalist and editor, currently writing fiction for adults and children. Visit my website at www.karengrikitis.wordpress.com.
Published May 20th 2015
World-renowned zoo in a fabulous setting
Seeing wild animals in captivity isn't to everyone's taste but personally I believe they have a role to play and when I arrive in a city where I'm staying for a while, I like to check out its zoo, and Calgary was no exception. Entering via its rather unassuming west gate as I did, you could be forgiven for thinking Calgary Zoo was a small, provincial zoo, but that impression is quickly abandoned when you start walking and realise just how vast an area it covers.
Located on Calgary's scenic St. George's Island, east of the city, and across a footbridge into Bridgeland, Calgary Zoo occupies 92 acres and is Canada's second largest zoo. Founded in 1929 with 36 mammals and 78 birds, the Calgary Zoological Society was among the first zoos in Canada to be accredited by all three national and international associations of zoos and aquariums. Today it is home to about 800 animals and has received worldwide acclaim as being one of the top zoos for conservation research.
The Zoo's parkland setting near the River Bow is beautiful and each of the Zoo's six, distinct areas – Destination Africa, Canadian Wilds, Penguin Plunge, Dorothy Harvie Botanical Gardens and ENMAX Conservatory, Eurasia and Prehistoric Park - are clearly sign-posted so it is easy to find your way around. I headed straight for the Canadian Wilds area where a talk about wolves was scheduled, just in case I encountered one on a trip to the Rockies.
One of the rhino information boards at Calgary Zoo
Many of the animal enclosures for the larger and more agile species incorporate a glass panel barrier, allowing very close - but safe - encounters with species such as bears, cougars and lions. It is wonderful to see small children squealing with delight when a monkey places the palm of its hand on the glass next to theirs.
The huge glass roofs of the African Savannah and TransAlta Rainforest buildings in Destination Africa, tower above the Zoo. One of their notable features is an 80,000 gallon water tank where you can enjoy an underwater view of hippos swimming. When I visited the two beasts in question were too busy sunning themselves outdoors to take the plunge. They were splendid to watch, however, snoozing side by side.
If you need a break there are plenty of refreshment stops and for families with small children there are some play areas and wagons can be hired for weary little legs
The butterfly garden in the ENMAX Conservatory at Calgary Zoo
A year ago, Calgary Zoo said goodbye to its three elephants when it moved them to the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington DC. This was to give them more space in a more suitable, all-round climate. Most other species can be seen at the Zoo, however, including tigers, rhinos, giraffes, and lions, among many others. A breeding pair of giant pandas will reportedly be joining Calgary Zoo in 2018 on loan from China.
The Dorothy Harvie Botanical Gardens and ENMAX Conservatory are well worth a visit, especially the butterfly garden where you can sit and watch these delicate creatures flutter around you.
As well as providing a safe environment for children and adults to see and learn more about wild animals, Calgary Zoo's Centre for Conservation Research is home to a team of biologists who have gained international recognition as leaders in the recovery and reintroduction of endangered species. Some of the species they are hoping to save from extinction through captive breeding, veterinary and behavioural research, include black-tailed prairie dogs, northern leopard frogs and Vancouver Island marmots.
Calgary Zoo can be reached on foot or bike via the Bow River pathway, by car, or by taking the Northeast Line (Route 202) of the C-Train light transit system to the stop named 'Zoo'.