Deciding on Species for the Calgary Zoo
Every species – mammal, reptile, bird, fish, amphibian or invertebrate – has unique physical, psychological and social needs. Meeting those needs is a critical part of deciding which species should be housed here at the Calgary Zoo. So is ensuring that every species at the zoo ultimate has a role to play in conservation or education.
When deciding which species the zoo should care for, our team of animal care professionals begins by looking at a species’ current conservation status. From there, they determine the conservation and education role that species can play and how the zoo might be able to contribute to global conservation efforts.
Then, the team assesses the welfare needs of each species – and individual animals as well – to determine whether we can adequately meet those needs. Priority is given to species with the greatest conservation need, those where our impact will be the most meaningful and species which we can care for most successfully.
Reporting Animal Deaths
Our commitment is to publicly disclose information about the births and death of animals at the Calgary Zoo.
We share animal updates on our Facebook page and this website. In addition, we will issue a formal announcement in the following circumstances:
- An avoidable death, that is one proven or suspected to be human error or avoidable circumstances;
- The death is highly unusual, such as a death in view of the public, or the loss of a high-profile or long-standing resident animal;
- Where we deem the matter to be in the public’s interest, or where we need to clarify public questions about a death.
It should be noted that we do not routinely announce deaths by natural causes, although we do often share that information with conservation partners, zoo staff and volunteers, and visitors. This is particularly applicable in the case of our endangered animal breeding programs, where the mortality rate is often naturally very high.
In all cases, the death of any animal at the Calgary Zoo is carefully investigated and recorded for disclosure with the appropriate public or zoo officials.
Our Position on the Sustainable Use of Biological Resources
As a leader in the global conservation community, the Calgary Zoo supports the effort to create and enforce laws against exploitation of biological resources.
The Calgary Zoo is convinced that to achieve success in conservation we must work with people, not against them, reward them, not punish them, and give them an economic alternative to the destruction of species and ecosystems. We support the ethical and science-based sustainable use of biological resources, in accordance with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). We recognize that this may include sustainable harvesting of plants, fishing, hunting, and eco-tourism which yield local economic and conservation/natural ecosystem benefits.
An example of our position is our active and vocal support for the ban of shark fin soup in the Calgary. Based on scientific knowledge, the practice of “finning” is currently unsustainable and is the single greatest risk to shark populations worldwide. Yet we also have proposed new alternatives that, if adopted, could result in the sustainable harvesting of some shark species. And we take that principle beyond our own borders, such as providing training in South and Central America to teach both youth and professionals about the science of sustainability – we are proving that creating economic benefits for a local community will yield conservation benefits.
Our Position on Euthanasia
Animal care professionals sometimes face the very difficult decision of whether it is necessary to euthanize an animal. Most often the reasons are obvious and the decision straightforward, but on occasion the decision may be more complex. At the Calgary Zoo there is a defined process that involves all the members of the zoo’s animal management team for making end-of-life decisions.
Welfare and conservation are guiding principles at the Calgary Zoo and they are key considerations in making these end-of-life decisions. The fundamental principle behind euthanasia is that the humane death of an animal does not compromise its welfare and has the capacity to eliminate potential future suffering.
The Calgary Zoo gives careful consideration to alternative treatments and/or solutions before euthanasia is considered. Within this context, there are three primary reasons why euthanasia may be considered:
- The animal is suffering due to injury, disease or persecution by other animals within its social group.
- In this situation, the first step is to determine if there is a way to alleviate the suffering through medical treatment or relocation to another group or facility. When there is no reasonable expectation that the animal’s suffering can be effectively reduced and/or treated to an acceptable level, the decision may be made to euthanize the animal.
- The animal is contributing to the suffering of other individuals.
- The animal care team will first consider whether the animal can be relocated to another group or facility where its welfare needs can be adequately met without simply transferring a problem animal to another location. If there is no suitable alternative available and no expectation that the behaviour can be modified to return the animal to its group without jeopardizing the welfare of the other animals, the decision to euthanize could be made.
- In rare situations, it may be possible that an animal can no longer be managed within the current collection or within an acceptable alternative facility. However, it is the responsibility of the animal management team to avoid such instances wherever possible in a manner that does not compromise the zoo’s conservation mission and deep-rooted commitment to animal welfare.
The same decision-making process is followed as in #2. Always the first course of action is to determine if the animal can be relocated to another acceptable group or appropriate facility. Only as an absolute last resort would euthanasia be considered.
The Calgary Zoo is dedicated to providing an appropriate diet to each animal in their care. Every effort is made to provide food in a manner that meets the nutritional, behavioural and social needs of our animals, while following stringent food safety guidelines. To meet these needs, many of our carnivores are provided with large carcass pieces as this is closer to what these animals would experience in the wild and affords many nutritional and health benefits. The zoo is now offering a set schedule of viewing times starting in mid-May 2015.
This program entails feeding our large carnivores prey items a minimum of once per week as part of a varied diet. These diets depend on species and individual needs; typically, carcass pieces are horse, bison and mutton which are supplied by licensed facilities throughout Alberta. We take extreme caution not to bring in any animals or animal parts that may pass disease to our carnivores during these feedings.
How does it benefit our animals?
The essential nature of a carnivore is linked to the activities of capturing, processing and consuming prey which has nutritional value, but also is important for their oral health (gums and teeth) to tear down pieces of meat off bones and skin. Likewise, processing hair, feathers, skin and tendons is important for their digestive system (roughage). There are behavioral advantages to this practice as well, as feeding prey is stimulating for our animals as they interact with their food around their habitats.
Markhors have been known to climb trees in search of nutritious leaves. One was sighted on the branch of an oak tree about six metres (19 feet) above the ground, calmly munching on leaves.