ZooLaLa the first behind-the-scenes experience at Calgary Zoo in years

Patrons not given access to staff-only animal care areas since the pandemic began

One of the Calgary Zoo's tigers prowls around the pond in the tiger enclosure on Tuesday, March 22, 2022. ARYN TOOMBS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Everyday, thousands of Calgarians take in the experience of getting to see animals at the zoo.

But what The Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo patrons, and even some zoo employees, never get to see is the behind-the-scenes locations where animal care staff provide care, and where the zoo’s animals sleep.

For one night only, and for the first time in over three years, the zoo is opening some of these areas to patrons as part of their ZooLaLa event on Sept. 17. The ZooLaLa event is limited to adults only.

“It’s something very special, and we are only going to do it for this event,” said Gillian Cardwell, manager for special experiences at The Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo.

“We want to give people an opportunity to do something they’ve never done before, so we can tell our story, and really tell the importance of zoos and the conservation work we do on a one-on-one basis.”

Cardwell said that every day the zoo does a great job of helping families to understand species conservation, but that with an audience limited to just adults, they can have deeper conversations about the impacts of what the organization is doing.

“We feel that if we can share what’s really going on in the day-to-day to take care of these animals, and what what issues they have in the wild, then we can go further with our story and we can really get a little deeper into why we’re doing all these things.”

Everyone will get a chance to see behind the scenes

ZooLaLa is being sold in three tiers, depending on whether patrons want to partake in a tapas and cocktails party, or in a three-course dinner with wine pairing at the zoo’s Grazer restaurant.

All attendees will get a chance to walk some of the zoo’s back roads to see animals like tigers and lions from a completely different vantage point.

“You’re gonna get to see them pretty close from a direction you’ve never seen before,” said Cardwell.

“They’ll be interested in what’s going on, and come over and check folks—the animals will come and go as they please, but you’re gonna see a lion from a different view.”

She said that this would also give patrons a chance to talk directly to animal care technicians, and to ask and learn in a way that most zoo visitors would never get a chance to during a normal day.

Attendees will also get a chance to see where the animals sleep, where they eat, and probably encounter a few animal smells that are different than the regular zoo experience.

She said the event’s top tier tickets, which are limited to just 50 guests, will also give those patrons an opportunity to feed giraffes and camels.

“It’s something we don’t do for anybody, so that’s really special.”

‘Zoonique’ auction items, food, beverages

There will be food stations, cocktail vendors, and beverage tasting locations with different alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks for all patrons to enjoy.

“We do some other adult events throughout the year that have tasty food, but this is the one on steroids,” said Cardwell.

“This is the party with the purpose, where we really pulled out every job to do something really special.”

The Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo is also holding a silent auction and 50/50 raffle, with the ability to bid or purchase from Sept. 9 to 17. Cardwell said that there would be some awesome, “zoonique” items that patrons wouldn’t be able to get anywhere else but the auction.

All of the funds from the auction and raffle will be going to directly support The Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo’s Whooping Crane Recovery Program.

“The rest of the event is going directly to the conservation programs at the Calgary Zoo,” said Cardwell.

“This is something that you can see your money going directly to do something—putting these animals directly into the wild.”

For more details, and for early bird pricing on tickets, see the ZooLaLa event website.

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