Polar bears, new habitats coming in Calgary Zoo Canadian Wilds revamp

The Calgary Zoo has not had a polar bear since 1999, but plans are in motion to bring back the iconic carnivore. (Wikimedia Commons/Adam Bishop)

Funding for updates in several exhibits in the Canadian Wilds area of the Calgary Zoo was announced Tuesday, as well as a new exhibit featuring a Canadian icon.

Dr. Clément Lanthier, the president and CEO, Calgary Zoo formally announced a $31 million project that will revamp existing habitats and introduce a space for three or four polar bears.

LiveWire Calgary was first to report back in 2018 that the Calgary Zoo was looking at a potential polar bear habitat.

The building that houses the river otters will be renovated, as will the caribou and whooping crane enclosures. However the focal point will be the area for polar bears.

“The Arctic is melting, and many of those species are depending on the space. So I think we have a role to play to tell the story about what is happening in the wild, but also what is our responsibility to support some of those species,” said Lanthier.

Lanthier said the $31 million will be for phase one of the project and that phase two has not yet been fully budgeted. The new renovations are set to be completed by fall 2023.

Updates will have impact beyond the zoo 

“These new habitats are going to engage visitors in a new and exciting way, and inspire all of us to think about our personal role in conservation and wildlife and the incredible biodiversity,” said Leela Sharon Aheer, Alberta Minister of Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women.

Aheer emphasized the impact these updates will have on areas outside of the zoo itself, such as tourism and hospitality.

She said that the zoo is one of the biggest draws to the city, and these updates will help attract visitors to the province and city.

The province kicked in $15.5 million over three years as a part of the fundraising.

It allows for a greater focus on the Canadian Arctic species conservation, the Zoo said. Future phases will provide updates for the bison, prairie dogs, grizzly bears, cougars and northern leopard frogs.

The renovation is expected to create 240 construction jobs and 100 permanent, full time jobs at the Calgary Zoo.

New exhibit is part of a childhood dream realized

Don Taylor from the Taylor Foundation spoke fondly of childhood memories of polar bears at Calgary Zoo in 1941, and expressed his desire to bring them back to the city. 

“There was this one polar bear that used to come up and continually smack the window just as hard as he could. And it was at that time the light began to come on, but maybe not all the polar bears were that happy,” said Taylor.

Now Taylor says the plan is to provide a varied, healthy environment for the bears and to educate people on the animals.

“The plan is to bring stressed polar bears and orphaned cubs and raise them here and give them a comfortable home for the remainder of their lives, but also provide the public the chance to see the true Canadian icon,” said Taylor.

The primary aim of introducing polar bears and renovating habitats is to educate people about the effects of climate change on Arctic animals.

That’s something Lanthier highlighted by sharing a quote from Baba Dioum, a Senegalese conservationist: “In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught.”

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