Plains, Trains and Automobiles

Plains, Trains and Automobiles

This article was originally published in the Winter 2018 Wild Times Newsletter.
Photo Credit: Wade Krasnow (Above Photo: Three Harbour seals, each with their own crate, arrive by plane from Quebec.)

People often ask, how do you move animals from one zoo to another? There is no simple answer. Many modes of transportation are used to safely transport animals, it all depends on the circumstances.

The Edmonton Valley Zoo belongs to several North American and global breeding programs. That means an animal destined for our zoo may travel a short distance from Calgary or all the way from Japan.

The fastest way for any animal to travel is by plane. While this may seem as simple as booking a space on the next flight, there are a many considerations. First, we need to ensure that International Air Transport Association (IATA) regulations are followed. These regulations dictate the type of shipping crate or container the animal needs, food and water requirements, type of substrate, temperature parameters, and safety considerations. In addition to this, our zoo has strict standards that must be adhered to when transporting animals.

Then, the flight needs to be booked. As there is limited space and size restrictions for crates, this is not as easy as it seems. Lastly, the animal must be transported to the airport by vehicle, arriving at least two hours prior to take off.

International shipments are even more complicated, and require documents such as import or export permits from various levels of government. As well, veterinary inspections are required upon landing in Canada and between connecting flights. Luckily, we can hire a broker who ensures the animal arrives safely into the country and onto its final destination.

When it comes to larger animals, they are usually moved by animal haulers in a livestock transport trailer. These haulers are experienced, and specialize in exotic animal transport. As with the airlines, haulers must follow federal guidelines for animal transport to ensure the animal’s safety and comfort.

Smaller animals often travel by car or van, especially if it’s a short distance. Boats and trains are also options. Sometimes, more than one type of transport is used to transfer an animal from one part of the world to another. The goal is always to choose the method that will cause as little stress and disruption for the animal.

Here at the Edmonton Valley Zoo, our red pandas, meerkats, Arctic wolf, golden lion tamarins, and harbour seals all arrived via air. The takins, reindeer, snow leopard, and camels came by truck. When Penelope the juvenile white-handed gibbon was transferred to an Ontario zoo, zookeepers picked her up in a car and accompanied her across Canada till she reached her new home.

Perhaps in the future, transporting animals will be as simple as it is on Star Trek – we will beam them from one place to another. But for now, it is trains, planes and automobiles!

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.

Polar Bears in the Classroom

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

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.

Where Does the Zoo Find a Red Panda?

Some of our zoo residents are born here, like our baby Zebra.

Many of our guests ask, “Where does the Edmonton Valley Zoo get its animals?”

This is not a simple answer. There are no zoo stores with catalogues of animals to order and zoos do not collect animals from the wild except under special circumstances. Rather, there are many different ways zoos acquire animals for their collections.

Births, of course, do account for some of the arrivals at our zoo. This year the Edmonton Valley Zoo had two Sichuan takin calves, and red panda cubs born. Although baby animals are popular draws, accredited zoos do not breed their animals indiscriminately as the result would be an overpopulation, which in turn would cause housing and care challenges.

Many animals are part of the Species Survival Plan (SSP) programs, meaning that zoos worldwide work cooperatively to manage animal populations, thereby maintaining the greatest genetic diversity. The SSP often controls breeding in order to limit the number of offspring born each year.

Another way animals arrive at our zoo is through animal loans. Many animals are on breeding loans; sent from other facilities to be mated with animals currently living in our zoo. The offspring of these loans is shared between the zoos. Our snow leopards for example, arrived on breeding loans. Other types of loans include animals brought in for the summer to reside at the Urban Farm (calves, lambs, goats) and returned back to their owners in the fall.

Private donations are yet another we acquire animals. Many times a well-meaning pet owner buys a “cool” animal only to find out that they are not equipped to look after the animal. They soon realize the tiny two-inch Sulcata tortoise they bought grows and grows until it ends up to be over 200 pounds (91 kg) and three feet long (91 cm), and they can no longer deal with it. Sometimes the pets are illegal to possess and must be donated to a zoo. This was the case with our Serval cat, Pascha, and our Burmese python, Lucy. Sadly, unwanted pets often have issues with obesity, aggression, or they are bonded to humans.

Lambs and other farm animals are often on loan to the Urban Farm for the summer.

Serval cats are illegal to own in Alberta. Pasha was surrendered by his owner.

Rescue animals also make their way to the Edmonton Valley Zoo if they are unable to be rehabilitated and released back into the wild. Our male Peregrine falcon was brought to us when he was just a fledgling due to an injury leaving the nest. We were able to offer him a home here and saved him from being euthanized.

Lastly, when a zoo is in need of a particular species, and none are available for trade or loan, there is always the option of purchasing an animal from a breeder, pet store, another zoo, or a reputable animal dealer. Koko and Lala, our first two red pandas, came to us from a zoo in Japan in 2004 and more recently, we found Tundra, our male Arctic wolf, in a zoo in the Netherlands.

Whether our animals were born here, donated, or arrived via a loan, trade, or sale, together they make up our Edmonton Valley Zoo family.

You can help build the Red Panda’s a new home in Nature’s Wild Backyard, by becoming a Zoo 200 Member today!

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!