Polar Bears in the Classroom

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

Close your eyes and imagine how cool it would be to spend an entire week of school at the zoo. All sorts of incredible and unexpected adventures would make that an unforgettable experience. Now, just imagine the thrill of seeing wild polar bears in your classroom, and the chance to meet a real polar bear scientist!

This is one of the special experiences that the Velma E. Baker School Grade 3 class enjoyed at the Edmonton Valley Zoo! The class participated in the zoo’s first ever, live Tundra Connections Webcast from Churchill, Manitoba – the polar bear capital of the world – an amazing initiative of Polar Bears International (PBI).

Students were able to watch wild polar bears roam the snow-covered tundra while asking Alysa McCall, a staff scientist with Polar Bears International, all their burning polar bear questions:

Photo Credit: Wild Times Magazine, Winter 2018 Issue

Each year, once the sea ice melts, the bears of Western Hudson Bay spend the summer on land. Then, come October and November, the bears begin to congregate on the shore as they wait for the ice to return. PBI sets up a mobile learning lab on the tundra called Buggy One – a giant, monster truck-like vehicle that keeps them safe while watching and studying the polar bears.

On the day of the Tundra Connection Webcast, three polar bears were in the vicinity. What a thrill for these Grade 3 students to watch the bears prowl across the snow as the Arctic winds blew, while talking to the on-site scientist.

Though the Edmonton Valley Zoo does not house polar bears, it has been recognized as an Arctic Ambassador Centre (AAC) for Polar Bears International for many years. Arctic Ambassador Centres are endorsed by leading polar bear scientists, the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for actively engaging in saving polar bear habitat through greenhouse gas reductions within their organizations and their communities.

As an AAC, the Edmonton Valley Zoo works together with PBI to inform, inspire, and empower others to take immediate steps to reduce carbon dioxide for the conservation of polar bear habitat and other species impacted by a warming world.

Zoo School is a unique, immersive learning opportunity that gives teachers the opportunity to use the zoo as their classroom for a whole week! Hands-on animal encounters, behind the scenes tours, guest speakers and special presentations, such as the polar bear webcast, are offered. Students journal, observe, sketch, hear, sniff, touch and ask a flood of questions all week long. Every day promises new experiences and new discoveries!

For more information on Zoo School and our partnership with Polar Bears International please visit valleyzoo.ca

Meet Our Tractable Animals

TWYLA, ROVER, MOKEY, MEEKO, SHELDON AND PHOEBE.

What do these names have in common? They are all the names of tractable animals at the Edmonton Valley Zoo!

What is a tractable animal, you ask? Well, a tractable animal is one that is capable of being easily handled, managed, led, and/or trained. These animals are comfortable being around people and many are trained to showcase their unique natural behaviours to guests using positive reinforcement training methods.

We also refer to our tractable animals as ambassador or program animals, as they play an important role interacting with the public in support of the zoo’s educational and conservation goals. These animals allow our interpreters, zookeepers, and Urban Farm staff to engage audiences and provide Get Closer experiences to guests of all ages.

Canada’s Accredited Zoo’s and Aquariums (CAZA) supports the appropriate use of tractable animals as an important and powerful educational tool to enhance messages about conservation, wildlife, and animal welfare. The Edmonton Valley Zoo’s Tractable Animal Committee designs policies, usage guidelines, handling techniques, and creates tractable animal selection criteria. They also set standards for training staff in the handling of these amazing ambassador animals.

The tractable animal collection includes snakes, lizards, armadillos, owls, rabbits, tortoises, ferrets, rats, quail, reindeer, and the list goes on! Some are on display in the Saito Centre, EdVenture Lodge, and Urban Farm while others, such as the raptors, are housed off display.

Many of our smaller, exotic tractable snakes, armadillos, rats are used for educational programs such as Zoo School, sleepovers, group programs, and our popular Traveling Zoo Van programs. Guests are even invited to touch some of these special animals!

Our domesticated tractables, including sheep, goats, cows, chickens and rabbits, live in the Urban Farm where guests can enjoy a Get Closer farm yard experience. Many of our larger tractable animals are handled by zookeepers during our daily animal talks. Even though these are no touch animals, it’s still pretty neat to see them right up close!

As well, our tractable animals can be seen during unscheduled roving interpretation encounters when staff member wander throughout the zoo offering guests a chance to meet them. Guests are thrilled by these exciting and unexpected meet-ups.

So, what’s in a name? Phoebe, our Crested Gecko, was already named when she was donated to our collection. Usually, though, zoo staff dream up the tractable animal names. We recently acquired six baby rats and the education team named them in honour of Disney animal sidekicks: Meeko, Gus Gus, Pascal, Zazu, Abu and Raja. Can you guess the Disney movies they came from?

Want to meet some of our tractable animals in person?
Join us for Zoominescence: A Festival of Lights 2017!

Bringing the Ocean to the Edmonton’s River Valley

The ocean in the River Valley? Is that really possible? YES!

Since April, the Vancouver Aquarium’s Education Team has been on a national tour with their celebrated mobile ‘wet lab.’ For the last six months, this signature project has celebrated Canada’s milestone year by visiting 150 schools, camps and community groups from coast to coast. On September 30, the AquaVan brought this unique flagship initiative to the Edmonton Valley Zoo. Over 900 people interacted with and participated in the AquaVan activities.

The AquaVan 150 features a 28-foot (8.5m) mobile aquarium with resident creatures such as sea stars, sea cucumbers, crabs, sea anemones, and other fascinating invertebrates from the Pacific Coast. These animals serve as ambassadors for aquatic life and help to bring the ocean to Canadians regardless of where they live.

In addition to experiencing the thrill of hands-on encounters at the touch tanks, visitors will also learn about local history and regional environmental issues. The AquaVan 150 team delivers interactive and immersive programming to visitors of all ages, focusing on how humans are impacting our rivers, lakes, and oceans, and the important role Canadians can play to ensure these resources are healthy and abundant for future generations.

As part of the programming, the Edmonton Valley Zoo and AquaVan 150 coordinated a Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup! Each year, Edmonton Valley Zoo staff host this event to pick up debris and clean the banks of the North Saskatchewan River. On September 30th, guided by an Edmonton Valley Zoo interpreter, many zoo visitors participated in a cleanup along The Wander Trail and around different parts of the Zoo.

In 2002, the Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup became a national conservation initiative and cleanups started to take place in every province. This event is now recognized as one of the largest, direct action conservation programs in Canada!

This Zoominescence, the theme of our artistic competition is Canada 150! You can help support the revitalization of the Zoo, and celebrate Canada 150, by becoming a Zoominescence Sponsor today!