Curiosity takes me to The Calgary Zoo
I haven’t been to the zoo in years; since my kids were young. Curious to see if I could actually take a panning shot of the penguin walk for my Action Photography course (didn’t really work out), I set out on a relatively cold January day. Walking through the tunnel at the north entrance, I got into the mood with the carvings, lights and animal sounds. A huge thanks to Lisa McDonald, Manager Visitor Education, who met me at the gate, gave me a great overview of the penguin walk and made some good suggestions for things to do over the course of the day. There is a daily visitor program schedule on the website which lists all of the free activities and I tried to go to as many as possible. I learned quite a few things over the course of the day.
The penguins are very cute and very popular. The penguin walk is at 11 am during January and February and I would highly recommend it. Parents and kids in strollers lined up along the barrier and the kids were so excited to see the penguins. The kids were great; however one older gentleman, not so much. Wanting to get the “perfect shot”, he ran down the inside of the barrier (thankfully not scaring the penguins) and then came back on stood on the wrong side of the barrier. When asked by the zoo staff to move behind the barrier, his response was “that is not how you get a good picture dear”. Too bad!! There is a baby king penguin, Nero, who was a bit of a blob when I went, but I understand that he is moving around a lot more now and would be good to see.
Tigers can spray their urine and kids are good for blocking :). I didn’t think you would need to bring a change of clothes for that! There is a tiger training program every day and I really saw an appreciation for the animals during the event. All of the keepers that I listened to use positive reinforcement with food to train and the tiger keeper indicated that the training helped to stimulate the tigers, as well as checked for health problems. The male tiger, Baikal, has arthritis so the keeper tried to make him do certain movements to see how he was doing. Baikal was a bit distracted though as Katja, the female was in heat. The keeper was great though as he didn’t push Baikal just to put on a show for us and stopped the event to let him go and snuggle.
The carnivore feeding was a popular one for the boys in particular. The large carnivores get prey items at least once a week for a variety of nutritional and health benefits. I saw the lynx with a rabbit and apparently the lynx can be excited with his food for a few hours and will jump and throw it around, training the brain for natural feeding. I think they are a majestic animal (and I’m not really a cat lover).
Another good example of compassionate care for the animals was the hippo keeper talk (and another place where you have to be careful of animals spraying things – but this time it is poop!!). The hippos can suffer from gingivitis so their gums are cleaned with an electric toothbrush and their mouths sprayed well. They get treats for this, and if the hippo doesn’t want to participate, they don’t have to. A great story from Lisa was about Foggy, whose bite was off, so that his teeth didn’t sharpen as they should have every time he closed his mouth. The keepers trained him to hold his mouth open while they used a wire to cut his teeth down. They’d do this once a year. Can you imagine?!
It would be interesting and challenging to work with the gorillas due to their intelligence. Gorillas can suffer from many of the same diseases as humans (colds, heart disease, tuberculosis, even Ebola). The keepers have to use a mesh barrier to do all of their assessments and have trained them to do certain things (like open their mouths so that their teeth can be checked) using words, hand signals and food. One of the females, Zuri, was born in a zoo in the US, but was rejected. She didn’t quite fit in to the group in Toronto either (too “centre of the universe” for her?) but has done quite well in Calgary as her confidence has improved. I have to say that Calgary suits me much better than Toronto as well.
There is much written about whether zoos are good or bad for the animals. I did feel a little sad for the grey wolf, who watched me through the fence. Overall though, I think the way that the animals are treated, the conservation efforts and the research that is done makes zoos a great place to see and learn about animals that many of us will never experience in the wild.
For anyone curious, this was my best panning shot of the penguins. He looks mad though – that old guy was blocking his view of the kids! I definitely want to go back to take more pictures. I understand that Koija, one of the gorillas, is expecting in the next month so would love to take some pictures of a baby gorilla. And I’d like to see Nero, the baby king penguin, again when he is more active. See you there!!