Creature Feature: Harbour Seal

Creature Feature: Harbour Seal

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

Arctic Shores is home to four playful and entertaining harbour seals. The female quartette ranges from 11 to 18 years. Hula, Wasabi, Millie, and Sushi spend their day darting around their indoor and outdoor saltwater pools, and resting poolside to watch the crowds. Along with sea lions and walruses, these furry mammals are known as pinnipeds, meaning flipper-footed. Long, flat flippers, each with five webbed digits, propel them with speed and agility through the water. Thick layers of subcutaneous fat provides energy, and insulation in the cold water. Unlike a sea lion, seals don’t have ear flaps.

SIZE: They can reach up to 1.9 m (6 ft) long and can weigh up to 160 kg (352 lbs).
HABITAT: Saltwater shorelines north of the equator in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Often seen near piers, beaches and intercostal islands.
DIET: Mostly fish (cod, herring, salmon) as well as squid, octopus, crabs, clams. Each whisker moves independently to feel the vibrations of swimming prey.
BEHAVIOURS: Can dive down to 457 m (1,500 ft) but generally forage in shallower waters. To accomplish this feat they stop breathing, slow their heart rate and shunt blood from their extremities to their brain, heart and muscles.
OFFSPRING: One pup per year.
LIFE EXPECTANCY: Females outlive males – 30-35 years vs 20-25 years. Longest recorded lifespan was 47 years.
THREATS: Predators include sharks, killer whales and polar bears. Humans hunt them for their fur, oil and meat. No conservation concerns at this time.

Geriatric Care: Creating a Life Worth Living

Geriatric Care: Creating a Life Worth Living

This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 Wild Times Newsletter.
Photo Credit Wade Krasnow

Age Is Not A Disease

One of the benefits of modern veterinary care and medicine; higher quality nutrition, training and enrichment; and natural habitat designs is zoo residents are living richer and longer lives. In fact, many animals soar past their expected life span, creating large populations of geriatric animals.

Modern zoos worldwide are creating programs dedicated to the assessment and care of their senior residents. A geriatric animal – defined as having lived 75 per cent of what their estimated life span would be in the wild – often experiences degenerative issues as do humans. Approximately one quarter of our 358 Edmonton Valley Zoo animals is considered to be geriatric.

Animal Team Leader Wade Krasnow attended the first ever symposium on senior animal care. Caring for Elderly Zoo Animals, hosted by the San Francisco Zoo, where it was emphasized that while “age is not a disease,” aging animals have unique physical and emotional needs, as well as preferences that must be addressed.

“We have as much responsibility to care for our elderly animals as we do our younger ones,” states Krasnow. “Some of these animals have been with us 10 to 15 years, or longer – we think of them as family – each with their own unique personality.”

Geriatric Care Program

While the zoo follows standards of care for each species, the Geriatric Care Program tailors a health plan to meet the needs of each individual.

“This is a comprehensive program that addresses diet, vet care, seasonal housing, enrichment, and training,’’ shares Krasnow. “We look at what the animal needs for a life worth living, so each senior lives the best possible life throughout its later years.”

Quality Of Life Assessments

A Quality of Life Assessment form allows zoo staff to evaluate, from a scale of 0-10, an animal’s physical condition, behaviour, mobility, appetite, temperament, and the number of good days it has versus bad. If the animal is doing well, staff may assess it once a month; if it is nearing the end, it can be daily.

Training is a vital part of our zoo’s husbandry. It allows keepers to work closely with the animals and quickly spot changes in body condition and/or behaviours. This is especially beneficial for seniors as changes may be subtle and gradual.

End Of Life Decisions

The end of life decision is made when the quality of life assessment score shows a pattern of falling below a threshold number. The veterinarian and zookeeper staff convene to determine whether euthanasia or a natural death is best for the animal. The decision is always based on what is best for the animal.

When an animal does pass, it can affect other animals in the herd or troop, as well as grieving zoo staff and members of the public. Regular visitors routinely check on their favourite animals and want to know what happened if they are missing. Zoo staff are always eager to share information about our animals.

This photo (above) of Sebastian, our Western Caucasian tur, and zookeeper Trevor, was taken in January. Sebastian was nearing 14, a ripe old age for a species that averages 10 to 12 years. Several steps were taken as age crept up to ensure Sebastian was as healthy and comfortable as possible: compression horse wraps were used on his front legs to reduce edema and promote blood flow; he wore a horse blanket for warmth and to discourage magpies from picking at his back; a heater and extra bedding were placed in his barn; and a special diet of crushed alpha cubes made it easier for him to chew the food for maximum nutrition and digestion.

Shortly before this was published, the decision was made to humanely euthanize Sebastian. He was a valued member of the zoo family and enjoyed a long, happy life. Sebastian is fondly remembered.

Hello, My Name Is Xena!

Hello, My Name Is Xena!

This article was originally published in the winter 2018 Wild Times Newsletter
Photo Credit: Janice Ryan

What better way to get to know the inner world of an animal than to ask one of their caregivers. In the case of our gorgeous Canada Lynx, Xena, zookeeper Mia knows her very well. She cleans her habitat, feeds her, and provides enrichment opportunities every day to keep the six-year-old active and stimulated. Mia also helps train Xena so keepers can assess her health without catching or restraining her.

Here’s a few of the tidbits Xena would like to share with our visitors:

FAVOURITE FOOD? I love, love rabbits. Sure, guinea pigs and chicken are ok, I mean, I’m not going to turn them down, but rabbits are my fave! I like to toss my whole food in the air before I dine and bat it around a bit. Works up my appetite. *Note: the Edmonton Valley Zoo does not feed its animals live prey.

FAVOURITE ENRICHMENT? Well, there’s this mirror that hangs in my habitat. I just love to mark it with urine, make sure everybody knows it’s mine. I also like to claw my soccer ball. Sometimes the keepers give me straw covered with another animal’s scent. I get giddy and roll around in it. The best fun is when my habitat gets rearranged. I simply must investigate immediately.

PERSONALITY TRAITS? I’ve overheard Mia telling the others that I am a DIVA! She says I have more cat-itude than any other other cat here. Excellent! Apparently though, my aloof nature makes training a wee bit challenging. I admit, I like to keep Mia on her toes, but it’s that much sweeter when I do what she asks. Watching her rejoice is delightful!

TRAINING ACHIEVEMENTS? Mia is such a doll, she says I am very smart. My training behaviours are for husbandry. For example, when I stand on my hind legs Mia scans my underside; hold up a paw, she checks my pads. When the spirit moves me I open my mouth so she can check my teeth and gums. I even hop on the scale to be weighed. I am a svelte 12.5kg (27.5lbs), absolutely purr-fect for my height and fine bone structure.

SPECIAL SKILLS? I don’t want to brag or anything, but my eyesight and hearing are phenomenal. I can spot a mouse 75m (82yd) away! I can jump high, too…..really high. I ricochet off the walls, landing with poise and grace on the wooden platforms. Easy-peasy.

FAVOURITE PHYSICAL ATTRIBUTES? I just adore my black, tufted ears. And, I have the cutest, little bobbed tail. Watch closely when I hunt for food my trickster keepers hide. See how my sassy tail twitches. Adorable, yes?

CLAIM TO FAME: The Oilers sponsor my habitat through the Valley Zoo Development Society’s Adopt an Exhibit program. Seeing as Hunter, the lynx, is the Oilers mascot, I think that makes me his girlfriend.

LOVE LIFE: Sweet Mia shared this exciting tidbit with me – I am getting a male companion by the name of Sherman. Sigh. He’s coming all the way from Washington to hang out with moi.

Special Care for Senior Animals

Care for zoo animals has improved steadily over the last few decades with advancements in veterinary medicine, technology, nutrition, habitat design, training, and enrichment. As a result, zoo animals are enjoying healthy, long lives. But, as populations of senior animals increase, so do age-related health problems. Humans and animals share many of the same degenerative issues – joint problems, failing eyesight, organ failure, dental problems, dementia – and require special attention.

The Edmonton Valley Zoo currently is home to 358 animals including 118 species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. Zoo veterinarian, Dr. Marie-Josée Limoges, estimates that 20 to 25 percent are seniors, and entering the last stage of their life.

“For species of which we know the natural lifespan, we are aware when they enter their senior years, but for other species there is no data about their longevity so we rely on observations,” explains Dr. Limoges. “How are they behaving? How do they look? Has their appetite changed? We use quality of life assessments to monitor an animal’s general condition and determine whether therapy might be needed, or whether current treatments should be reviewed or altered.”

While treatments may involve medications or supplements, there are many ways to make animals more comfortable in their later years. Diets are adjusted: hard food is replaced with soft; hay is chopped for the ruminants. Heaters or fans are installed in their habitats so they can be comfy as temperatures fluctuate. Habitats are redesigned so beds, food and water are easier to access. Sometimes, the animal is “retired” and lives away from the public eye.

Animal Care Team Leader, Wade Krasnow, recently attended the two day workshop, Caring for Elderly Zoo Animals, hosted at the San Francisco Zoo. “Age is not a disease,” states Krasnow, “some older animals are very active and healthy and many are living past the longevity records for their species. We need to look at each animal individually, not as a species, to determine what special care that animal needs.”

Todd, our eleven and a half year old Fennec fox, is recovering after having an eye removed due to a painful condition called glaucoma. Though permanently off-exhibit, he enjoys splitting his time between the offices of Dr. Limoges and another staff member, where he is under careful watch.

“We give them a good, long, quality life to have reached old age, and now we’re trying to make their last years as comfortable and stress-free as possible,” shares Dr. Limoges.

As I exit the interview, I spot a little black rat happily curled up on the back of a zookeeper’s neck. The keeper is entering daily reports at the computer and Crawford is just hanging out. After a good career meeting guests and working with the education program, respiratory issues have forced her to retire.

Nonetheless, she looks like a happy rat!

Looking for a last minute gift idea? Adopt a furry friend for your loved one today!

Tips and Tricks for Bathing an Elephant

If you think washing your dog is a challenge, imagine scrubbing down a 4.4 tonne Asian elephant. Luckily, Lucy and her team of devoted keepers know the drill.

“A daily bath is an important part of Lucy’s care routine,” explains zookeeper Paul Williams. “We clean sand or mud from her eyes and ears that she may have picked up lying down, wash off urine that splashes up on the inside her legs, and check her hind end and tail for feces. Bath time is also a stimulating activity where Lucy can interact and bond with her keepers.”

Using soft hand brushes and long-handled brushes, two keepers gently scrub the pachyderm with a mild aloe vera and oatmeal soap and skin conditioner, washing her legs, belly, back and face. Lucy stands patiently waiting for her special moment, when she is offered the hose to grab a drink and continue rinsing herself off. She particularly enjoys spraying her belly, occasionally dousing her keepers in the process.

“A visiting elephant veterinarian told us that Lucy has excellent skin condition for her age,” shares Williams. Spas have heralded for years the glowing benefits of mud. Lucy has three mud baths at her disposal so perhaps that’s another beauty secret.

“It is very important to regularly check and maintain her feet,” Williams states. He explains that the leading cause of mortality for elephants in the wild is from foot problems, usually an infection. With so much weight spread across their feet, it is essential that the grooves in the foot pads are free of rocks, the toenails are trim, and the cuticles are smooth and not overgrown.

“You can see when Lucy walks that she is careful where she places her feet to avoid sharp rocks, branches, and roots,” says Williams. “We check her feet at least twice a day, washing, scraping off mud, picking out small stones and debris, and checking for wounds.” An array of farrier horse tools and other special instruments for hoof stock are used to keep Lucy’s feet in top condition.

I am amazed by Lucy’s large vocabulary and understanding of the situation. After her Epsom salt foot bath, zookeeper Trevor Hickey asks Lucy to lift her right back leg, bend her knee and rest it on a custom-built steel stool. The stool supports her enormous leg – a task physically impossible for the keepers – while Hickey thoroughly examines and cleans each foot. At day’s end, an apple cider vinegar foot bath closes the pores and also acts as an antiseptic.

Next, Hickey asks Lucy to open her mouth so he can check for trapped food around a loose tooth. Elephants can replace their teeth six times in their lifetime so a daily dental check-up is part of the routine.
Lucy is weighed first thing in the morning and at the end of the day. She skillfully balances on two portable truck scales. The weights are recorded and tracked over the year.

Long walks through the zoo grounds – four to six hours a day – provide Lucy with the exercise she needs to manage her weight, provide stimulation and enrichment, and loosen her joints.

“Lucy browses on grasses and bushes, enjoys the smells and sights, and likes to visit her mud baths for a leisurely roll,” says Williams. “When temperatures drop to -20C with wind chill in the winter, we walk in a heated building called the Dome, so Lucy can still get her exercise on those extra cold days.”

Looking for a unique gift idea? Lucy is a world famous artist, check out her paintings!


Lucy eats up to 45 kg of food and drinks up to 45 kg of water daily. She defecates 12 times a day, each weighing about 14 kg, and urinates one to two 19 litre pails.


Canada lynx are a medium-sized cat with distinct long ear tufts, flared facial hair and a black-tipped, bobbed tail. Canada lynx are part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP). In the 1900’s their populations declined drastically due to the fur trade. The Edmonton Valley Zoo is searching the zoo world for a suitable companion for Xena.

SIZE: Approx.2 ft (60 cm) tall, 3 ft (90 cm) long, 8-14 kg (18-31 lbs)
HABITAT: Boreal forests and mountainous areas with cold snowy winters and high populations of snowshoe hare. Found in Canada, northern United States and Alaska.
DIET: Mostly snowshoe hares but they will also eat small rodents, ground birds and carrion. Lynx populations fluctuate dramatically, following the snowshoe hare cyclic spikes and crashes.
BEHAVIOURS: Solitary, usually hunting & traveling alone. Lynx are not fast runners so use cunning to hunt, often waiting hours in a hiding spot before pouncing on prey. Large, round feet support their weight on top of the snow.
OFFSPRING: Average of four kittens.
LIFE EXPECTANCY: 15-20 years.
THREATS: Cougars, wolves, coyotes. Humans are their biggest threat; trappers hunt them for their beautiful fur.

Looking for a great gift? How about one of our fun 2018 Oilers Calendars!