Would You Like to Help Build Our Zoo? You Can Leave a Powerful Legacy!

Would You Like to Help Build Our Zoo? You Can Leave a Powerful Legacy!

This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 Wild Times Newsletter.

By including the Valley Zoo Development Society in your will, trust, retirement plans, or life insurance policy you can pass on your love of animals, conservation and education to future generations. With your support, we can create a very special place in our community that will inspire new generations of ambassadors who care about and are committed to preserving our one and only planet. It is a gift that will make a powerful difference in the lives of all species in our world: animals, plants and humans.

To discuss including the Valley Zoo Development Society in your will, trust, or as a beneficiary designation please contact: Stephanie Perilli, Director, Fund Development: 780-496-6924 or donate@buildingourzoo.com.

Nature’s Wild Backyard Offers Spaces of Wonder

Revitalization. Transformation. Leaders in the realms of conservation, education and environmental stewardship.

These words galvanize the vision which continues to drive the stunning improvements at the Edmonton Valley Zoo. With the completion of Arctic Shores in 2012, and the Entry Plaza and Wander in 2014, flush with outstanding visitor amenities, our modest 18 hectares-sized zoo has been catapulted from the 1959 nursery rhyme-theme we once cherished at the Storyland Valley Zoo into a world-class landmark.

Construction for the next phase, Nature’s Wild Backyard, has begun and will replace many exhibits from the original children’s zoo. Thanks to creative minds of The Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative (MBAC), architects and prime consultant for this project, this new addition promises to fully engage adults and children alike. In fact, the project has already won a Canadian Architect Award of Merit for its progressive and imaginative plan.

“We love architectural expression,” enthuses Boutin. “Zoo buildings, historically, have been conceived of as empty vessels filled with exhibitry. With Nature’s Wild Backyard, we designed the spaces so that they are equally evocative and become part of the interpretive messaging. The buildings take on a strong role in creating the habitat and creating an immersive experience for the guests.”

Immersive landscapes are designed to erase boundaries and seemingly place the animals and humans in a common habitat. This heightens the experience for the visitors, creates authentic habitats for the residents, and enriches the educational value of the exhibits.

“The question for us was, how do we build empathy in the children for these animals? How do we steward young conservationists for the future with a children’s zoo?” shares Boutin. “Research shows that children learn
through play, so we created play opportunities to show the interesting habits and habitats of animals. Children will find climbing and burrowing activities that parallel the way the animals in that collection exist in this world.”

Richard Cotter, MBAC’s Project Coordinator says Nature’s Wild Backyard offers four zones that will invite guests to explore the animals who live:

UNDER – descend below the ground to observe prairie dogs in their tunnels, naked mole rats, and meerkats, as red foxes roam above.
ON – the ‘tame’ area invites guest to visit our mixed species paddocks for a hands-on barnyard experience while the ‘wild’ area features emus, wallabies, and a grass maze for families to wander.
BETWEEN – visit the animals that live both on the land and in the water with underwater capybara and agouti viewing, the beaver lodge, and a waterfowl aviary.
ABOVE – a boardwalk will bring guests eye level with our gibbons, tamarins, red pandas, and lemurs. Venture onto the swinging rope bridge for a closer view.

“We are creating a series of spaces of wonder,” shares Boutin, “I think whether you are nine months or ninety-nine years, seeing animals eye-to-eye in these wondrous spaces will captivate you.”

The washroom building and concession – nearly six decades old – have been demolished and will be replaced. The carousel is being relocated to a new, central yard that will feature a skating rink in winter and spray area in the summer.

“We think of the zoo as an essential part of a healthy community, like a recreation centre,” says Tammy Wiebe, Executive Director of the Valley Zoo Development Society. “We want more barrier-free viewing so people can see the animals and understand their natural environment.” Wiebe and her team are committed to raising more than $9 million to fund Nature’s Wild Backyard.


ZooBuilder Program: Behind the Scenes




Our Zoobuilder Program is an exciting way to support the revitalization of the Edmonton Valley Zoo, volunteer at the zoo, and to get up-close-and-personal with some of your favourite animals!

The ZooBuilder Program’s “1-2 Person Encounter” and the “2-4 Person Encounter” give you and your friends the opportunity to go on a two hour, private “behind the scenes” adventure with one of the Edmonton Valley Zoo zookeepers! You’ll get up close and personal and discover fascinating facts about one of the animals at the zoo. We’ll even try our best to make sure it’s your favorite animal – so long as they are up for the company that day!

The ZooBuilder Program’s “Zookeeper for a Day” package gives you the opportunity to do just that – become an Honourary Zookeeper for a whole day! You’ll make all the regular rounds with an official Valley Zoo Zookeeper, enjoy lunch at the zoo, and you’ll go home with two tickets to the upcoming event of your choice – ZooFest or Zoominescence: A Festival of Light!

Recently we had the pleasure of hosting Janice and her lovely mother Fay for a ZooBuilder Encounter! Here’s what they had to say about their experience:

Thank you all for giving me and my Mom an amazing behind the scenes Zoo Builder experience! She thought it was absolutely the best tour ever and loved the chance to stand a few feet from the Amur tiger and Arctic wolves, feed the reindeer biscuits and give Hula a pat. It was engaging, educational and entertaining!
Greg, did a marvelous job answering questions, sharing tidbits of interesting info and telling stories.
We enjoyed the walk through the Commissary, frog room and EdVenture Lodge artifacts room, and were delighted with the rare chance to catch a glimpse of the red panda cubs on the den cameras.
The two hours flew by and we both learned new things and had first time encounters 🙂
Thank you all so very much!!

Janice & Fay
Zoo Builder Guests

Sounds like fun, right?! If you’d like to sign up for a ZooBuilder Encounter, or learn more about the ZooBuilder Program, follow the link below! We sure would love to host you on your very own ZooBuilder Adventure!!

Creature Feature: Three-banded Armadillo




ORIGINAL ARTICLE BY: Janice Ryan, B.SC, Author, Writer, Former Zookeeper
PRINTED IN: The Wild Times, Spring 2017

The Edmonton Valley Zoo is home to a trio of three-banded armadillos, Twyla, Scarp and Rio, ages 14 to 15. They are part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) as their conservation status is vulnerable.

Armadillos have scutes, a natural armour of movable bony plates covering their back, head, legs and tail. Though there are 20 species of armadillos, the three-banded variety is the only one that can roll itself into a ball as a defense mechanism against predators. The others dig a hole and hunker down to protect their soft body parts.

Size: Smallest pink fairy armadillo is about 6 inches (15 m) long while giant armadillos reach 5 feet (1.5 meters).
Habitat: All live in Central and South America except for the nine-banded armadillo found in the southern United States.
Diet: Primarily insects caught with their long, sticky tongues; also eat plants, eggs, and small animals.
Behaviours: Solitary creatures but get together to mate or keep warm; sleep up to 16 hours a day in burrows when not foraging for food.
Offspring: Give birth to one pup in the birthing burrow; other species have up to 12.
Life expectancy: Up to 42 years; other species average four to 30 years.
Threats: Domestic dogs, wild cats, birds of prey and humans.

Meet Lucy: A Sweetheart of a Snake





It’s not often that you hear “sweetheart” and “snake” in the same sentence. So, when Wade Krasnow, Animal Care Team Leader at the Edmonton Valley Zoo remarked that Lucy, their new nine-year-old Burmese python was a “real sweetheart,” I knew it was my journalistic duty to investigate.

Brett Noppé, a zookeeper at the Valley Zoo, works with this massive serpent – 3 m (9 ft) long, 13 kg (29 lbs) and growing – handling her with grace and ease. His experience working with wildlife in South Africa has developed a unique set of skills that include wrangling wild snakes for National Geographic films, curating snakes and crocodiles at the DumaZulu Reptile Park in Zululand, and working with wild elephants on the game reserves. Working with Mike Perry, one of two experts licensed to milk venom for anti-venom in South Africa, Noppé even caught venomous snakes, such as the black mamba.

“I didn’t start off loving snakes,” Noppé says with a grin, “but the more I educated myself about snakes, all those preconceived ideas started to fall away and it wasn’t a terrifying animal anymore. I could respect and admire snakes for what they are and the ecological niche that they fit.”

MYTH: Snakes are slimy!

Nope, snakes are covered in dry scales and are very smooth to touch.

Lucy arrived at the Edmonton Valley Zoo via Alberta Fish & Wildlife after being surrendered by her owner. Burmese pythons are illegal in Alberta so she would have been euthanized had the zoo not been able to give her a home. The Edmonton Reptile Rehab & Rescue cared for her while a quarantine space was prepared.

Pet owners often become tired of caring for these long-living animals and they often grow too big to handle, an essential element to keep them non-aggressive. It is critical to educate yourself before you buy a snake.
“When you work regularly with a snake it desensitizes to touch,” explains Noppé. “If you quit handling it, it loses its desensitization and will then start to see you as a threat.”

Burmese pythons are among the largest snakes on Earth. Noppé has seen them extend 7 m (23 ft) and tip the scales at 91 kg (200 lbs). Native to the jungles and grassy marshes of Southeast Asia, they are excellent swimmers and often found near water or hiding in the underbrush. Like boas, these constrictors are non-venomous.

Though it was a circuitous route for Lucy to reach her forever home at the zoo, many illegal and exotic pets are not as fortunate. Lucy seems very content in her new home.

Snakes collect chemical information floating through the air on their tongues then dart it into their Jacobson’s organ located on the roof of the mouth. This is how they pick up scents in their surroundings!

“We mimic her native surroundings as much as possible and keep it in the same temperature range,” says Noppé. “Her habitat has a subtropical feel with living plants, wet moss, a pool and tree branches where she can elevate herself.”

Like all reptiles, snakes are cold-blooded; their body temperature changes to match its surroundings. Noppé describes how Lucy will lie under a warm basking spot if she wants to raise her temperature or slither to the wet moss in her hide to lower it.

I smile when he calls this scaly reptile a “sweetie,” a nod to her docile and gentle nature. The endearment also helps others who are less enthralled with this scaled beauty, to relax and work around her with ease.
“I believe that to work safely around snakes, you must be very aware of what they are communicating with their body language,” says Noppé. “When I pick up Lucy, if she is flicking her tongue to smell and being curious and explorative, that tells me she is relaxed.”

“Working with animals … nothing compares, it’s the best job in the world. When I see animals exhibiting natural behaviours, that to me is magic. It’s a privilege to see.”

Like what you read? Click here to download the entire Spring 2017 Wild Time’s Magazine and learn more fascinating and fun facts about the Edmonton Valley Zoo!

Scientific Name: python molurus bivittatus
Habitat: near the water in rainforests, plantations, and fields
Diet: small mammals, birds, reptiles, fish
Life Span: 25 + years
Young: 15 – 80 eggs per clutch
Size: males up to 4.1 m long; female up to 6.7 m long

The Burmese Rock Python is native to South and Southeast Asia and is usually found near water but may also be found up in the trees. They are mainly nocturnal. The Burmese Rock Python is one of the largest, heaviest species of snake in the world and can reach 4 -6 meters long and weigh up to 90 kg. Burmese pythons are dark in colour, with a bold brown pattern bordered in black down the back.

A Winter Wonderland

BY: Wade Krasnow, Animal Care Team Leader @ The Edmonton Valley Zoo

It was a bright sunny day in the middle of winter. The temperature was -30°C but not everyone was staying inside, cuddled under a blanket – the Edmonton Valley Zoo’s red pandas were out enjoying the fresh snow. They seemed to enjoy making paths throughout their habitat and climbing on the trees up to their platform, and only came inside when they heard the zookeeper – bundled in layer upon layer of clothing – enter with their morning snack. They seemed a little smug knowing that their red panda fur coats were much warmer than anything their keeper was wearing.

Living in Edmonton in the winter can be harsh at times, but many of the animals are comfortable in such a climate. These animals are from similar climates around the world and have adaptations that help them to survive the winter challenges of frigid weather, snow, and blizzards.

Having a thick coat of fur is essential to survive periods where the temperature takes a plunge. Many animals have two different types of fur: a soft thick undercoat to help insulate them and coarse guard hairs that act as weather proofing and give the animal its colour. The undercoats of Bactrian camels, for example, are harvested when they molt to make clothing.

Animals will seek shelter during really harsh weather, some will even hunker down until a storm passes. At our zoo, all of the animals living outside have access to a shelter facing south so they can escape the wind. Straw is added as bedding so that they can comfortably lie down without being on snow.Some animals however, such as takin, prefer to lie in the snow rather than use the shelter provided. Many of our outdoor animals, including Arctic wolves, red pandas and the eagle, are provided with a heat source or have access to a heated building when they are cold.

Proper nutrition is essential for these animals to produce warmth and have energy. Amur tigers, for example, are not given the fast days they would normally experience in the wild. Bighorn sheep and other hoofed stock are given extra pellets and hay to keep them fit and healthy throughout the long winter and the prairie dogs are offered pellets for the occasional day they pop up from their dens midwinter. Reindeer and bighorn sheep decrease their activity in the winter, thus requiring less food and reducing nasal heat exchange.

Animals are amazing in the myriad of ways they have adapted to live in cold conditions. Evolution has helped shape these animals physically, physiologically and behaviourally so they can inhabit the harshest of climates. What may be an absolutely unbearable winter day to humans may be quite comfortable to an Arctic wolf. We may be cold standing at Arctic Shores watching the Northern fur seals play in the water, but the seals are having a great time watching us shiver.

Now that spring has arrived and our thick, cozy coats are headed for storage, the Zoo’s winter loving creatures are shedding and molting their fur wraps in preparation for a warm summer.


Besides being a beloved symbol of the north and the true spirit of the holiday season, the reindeer symbolizes wisdom, resourcefulness, cleverness, and inventiveness. Did you know that some populations of North American reindeer migrate further than any other terrestrial mammal? They can travel up to fifty-five kilometers a day and can cover over five-thousand kilometers in a year.

Reindeer can also run at speeds of 60-80 km/h. A day old reindeer can outrun an Olympic sprinter! Cunning survivalists, reindeer are able to live in the harshest of environments. Observing the reindeer pawing beneath packed snow to find grasses led indigenous peoples to medicinal herbs, making them a symbol of wisdom and cleverness.

Looking for the perfect way to show the City of Edmonton that your business is resourceful, inventive, and performs with speed and grace in the northernmost metropolitan city in the world? Why not adopt the Reindeer as your businesses “spirit animal!”