Lovers of art, plants, and animals are getting a treat this summer with the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo’s WildScapes exhibition.
Tigers, giraffes, penguins and more—10 animals in total—have been transformed into living sculptures that now dot the landscape surrounding the zoo’s conservatory.
“Every day visitors will have the opportunity to come and see these 10 very beautiful larger-than-life topiaries,” said Alison Archambault, Director for Brand and Engagement with the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo.
“They’re great photo opportunities and great chances to experience the zoo in a different way.”
Archambault said that each of the topiaries is made up of more than 50,000 plants. Each combines different species of plants to create colourful displays reminiscent of shells, fur, or plumage.
“Plants are such a vital part of biodiversity, and in addition to WildScapes being a beautiful addition to the zoo, we’re also hoping it could start some conversations about the critical work that we’re doing for plant conservation,” said Archambault.
Visitors to the zoo looking for instantly Instagramable spots will find that in the tiger head tunnel topiary, located near where the zoo had its tunnel of light during last year’s Zoo Lights.
Archambault said that the zoo hoped these would draw a new crowd who might not have visited, or been to the zoo lately.
“We’re a photo-driven world, and we’re looking forward to welcoming some people to the park that might not always come,” she said.
“Certainly part of our strategic plan is to get more people involved in conservation or people involved in protecting wildlife. So the topiary festival is designed to bring some people to the park that might have not come since they were younger, or might have not thought of the zoo as a plant space.”
WildScapes runs until October, weather dependent, and is free to view with regular admission to the zoo.
Putting a focus on plants conservation
The zoo’s CEO, Dr. Clément Lanthier, said during the unveiling of the display that the zoo has been working on plant conservation projects internationally in Madagascar, closer to home in Ontario, and is looking to expand conservation work within Canada to Newfoundland.
“Of course, we have a variety of animal species that we protect from extinction… but there was something missing a couple of years ago, and that was the plants,” he said.
Dr. Lanthier said that the goal of the zoo was to create something that would be interesting to visitors, would be a natural backdrop to one of the many weddings that the zoo holds each summer, and support conservation.
“The essence of having a zoo these days is to connect people with nature,” he said.
He said that the impetus for the living sculptures came from a newspaper clipping from something similar done by the Port of Old Montreal in the 1990s.
“I kept that paper clip because I have a pile of ideas… and when we needed something special for this summer to bridge between post-pandemic and the opening of the polar bear habitat later this fall, I thought that ‘you know what, I think that will be the summer that we’re going to do to topiary,'” Lanthier said.
Archambault said that each year, the zoo has more than 1.4 million visitors and that the new display was a great way to give visitors something new before the zoo’s re-design of the Canadian Wilds is opened later this year.
“We acknowledge that the Canadian Wildlife has been under construction for an extended period of time, and this is our way of thanking people for supporting wildlife conservation further as we as we wait just a little bit longer,” she said.
“The Canadian Wilds is nothing short of breathtaking, and we’re excited to share it in the fall.”