The Calgary Zoo does much more than put animals from around the world on display. Its conservation efforts span the globe, including efforts to increase the number of pandas.
Those animals go on display for the first time in decades at the Calgary Zoo this week. Crowds are expected to flock to the zoo’s new Panda Passage to catch a glimpse of the rare animals.
But how rare are they? Pandas are no longer endangered. They’re considered a vulnerable species with about 1,700 now in the wild thanks, in part, to careful habitat conservation and finely tuned breeding programs.
As far as rare animals go, others, also on display at the Calgary Zoo, face a much more uncertain future.
Take whooping cranes, for example. There is one non-breeding pair zoo-goers can view next to the bison on the zoo’s east end. But the zoo’s work with North America’s largest crane goes far beyond the confines of the Canadian Wilds exhibit. South of the city, at a facility near Dewinton, the zoo hosts one of the most successful conservation breeding programs in the world for whooping cranes.
“They were actually down to just 15 individuals left in the world by 1941,” said Dr. Axel Moehrenschlagen. He heads the zoo’s Centre for Conservation Research.
“If it wasn’t for breeding, releases, science and all sorts of partnerships which have come together to make a difference for the species, they would be extinct.”
Scientists have gone to great lengths to help the crane survive, including using robotic eggs to optimize incubation as well as dressing up as cranes themselves to help feed the young.
The Dewinton facility also hosts a breeding program for Vancouver Island marmots. The purely Canadian animal is considered critically endangered. In 2004, there were less than 40 of them in the wild.
A strategy to breed and reintroduce them has more than doubled the population, with over 80 pups bred from the Calgary Zoo alone.
There are now about 250 of them in the wild.
“We need to take action to make sure that those things that are part of our natural heritage and part of our culture and part of our identity, in many ways, are saved.”