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Calgary Zoo Foundation re-brands to reflect expanding purpose

It’s a wild world out there, but not wild enough for the Calgary Zoo Foundation.

The Calgary Zoo Foundation was renamed to the Wilder Institute on Tuesday, to better reflect the changing goals of the conservation organization to protect and expand biodiversity in the wild.

“This is not a revolution—this is an evolution of our conservation commitment,” said Dr. Clément Lanthier, president and CEO of The Calgary Zoo, and now the Wilder Institute.

Since 2016, the Calgary Zoo Foundation had transformed the way it saw itself from being a zoo with a conservation mission to that of a conservation organization that also had a zoo.

Dr. Lanthier and the foundation team felt that now was the right time to do the rebranding to better reflect those changes.

“The Wilder Institute is definitely a way forward to recognize the science-based organization that we are in wildlife conservation,” he said.

“That’s why we felt like the Wilder Institute will resonate better to recognize what we have developed over the last few decades, and the number of scientific papers that we are publishing, and the number of species that we’re impacting.”

Zoo remains a destination

Dr. Lanthier said that he was proud of the Calgary Zoo as a brand that Calgarians connect with, but the focus on that as a travel destination limited the wider conservation impact.

“People come to the zoo as a destination, and they connect with nature and their family, but what was missing is the understanding from our community that we are also deeply invested in conservation science,” he said.

No changes are expected to come for zoo funding, or to decreased investments in visitor experiences. The zoo itself will not be changing its name.

“We will continue to invest massively in providing the best experience possible to our visitors, and also we will continue to invest in animal welfare,” said Dr. Lanthier.

He said that the continued success of the zoo is fundamental to ongoing biodiversity conservation efforts.

“The Calgary Zoo is crucial because this is from the Calgary Zoo that we are supporting so many of the activities of the Wilder Institute—the Wilder Institute cannot exist without the zoo,” he said.

Engaging stakeholders in biodiversity is more important than ever

Climate change and the loss of biodiversity are both top issues for Dr. Lanthier and the Wilder Institute. But, he said, the loss of biodiversity doesn’t get as much attention as climate change.

“Doing nothing, it’s not an option,” he said.

“And the Wilder Institute is acting on this so we’re not another think tank—we have biologists in the field working with communities, we have biologists in the field trans-locating and reintroducing animals, and we have a team of caregivers that are breeding specifically for release.”

According to a 2019 report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, about 25 per cent of the planet’s species are threatened, and over one million are at risk of extinction.

The Wilder Institute has a 10-year plan to continue to engage with local stakeholders in Western Canada. It will continue to reintroduce species like Vancouver Island Marmots, Burrowing Owls, and Cranes.

Over the past several years the Calgary Zoo Foundation has become more involved with international NGOs and governments interested in trans-relocation and reintroduction of species. Some of those international conservation efforts have been in Africa.

“Our vision is to be Canada’s leader in wildlife conservation, and we will expand a number of programs that we lead in Canada, but simultaneously we see that there’s an opportunity for us to grow internationally,” said Dr. Lanthier.

City goes green for rebranding

In order to promote the rebranding, the zoo partnered with National Geographic for a first-of-its-kind presentation in North America.

Joel Sartore and National Geographic Photo Ark teamed up with the zoo, Arts Commons, and other downtown core partners to project Joel’s photos from that project onto the Calgary Tower.

“The Joel Sartore National Geographic Photo Ark is a is a reflection of why biodiversity is important, and that’s at the essence of the work that that Wilder Institute and the Calgary Zoo have been doing, and will continue to do,” said Alison Archambault, director of brand and engagement for the Calgary Zoo.

The photos are taken of species at risk of extinction.

This was only the second time this projection of National Geographic photos onto civic buildings was performed. It was first displayed at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in November in Glasgow, Scotland.

“So it’s very rare that folks are given this projection opportunity in a public setting, and we want people to share in the joy of this announcement and what they’ve done to contribute to the Wilder Institute–Calgary Zoo success to date.”

Calgarians wanting to see the projections for themselves can view them starting at 7 p.m. on the north-facing side of the Calgary Tower from Centre Street.

The zoo has also created a live stream of the rebranding launch that will take place from 6:45 to 7:15 p.m.