Wild Canadian Winter

Feb 11, 2015

Ask zookeepers about their biggest fear and, if they’re anything like Jennifer Long, they’ll likely say, “The rate at which animals are on the brink of extinction.”

Currently based in the Canadian Wilds, Jennifer, a 14-year veteran zookeeper, has worked with numerous endangered animals at the Calgary Zoo and in the U.S.

Easy to miss—when there are bear, bison and caribou to see—it’s the “little guys” such as frogs, garter snakes and prairie dogs that often get overlooked in the Canadian Wilds. These species are not as active in the winter, but a peaceful walk through the snowy forest will still give you views of shaggy bison, deer (white tailed males drop their antlers in December), mountain goats, bighorn sheep, wolves and, occasionally, bears.

“And yes, it’s true,” says Jennifer, “bears do come out of their dens from time to time, moreso at a zoo because of the noise, and the wolves are always beautiful to watch.”

In fact, if there’s one maligned animal in the Canadian Wilds, it’s the wolf, says Jennifer.

“Everyone, even in fairy tales, always warns people of the big bad wolf,” she says. “Wolves are often portrayed as evil, aggressive predators, but that’s not true. Sure, they’re carnivores, but they are typically shy and rarely pose a threat to people. In fact, wolves are a delight to work with—they’re full of personality and never show aggression to their keepers.”

Like so many of the zoo’s animals, Jennifer loves the little known facts behind Canadian animals that we think we know so well.

“Otters, like bears, can delay implantation until their bodies are ready,” she explains. “Male hoof stock drop their antlers first while females retain them to protect their young, garter snakes give birth to live young [ovoviviparity]; there are just so many cool mysteries here.”

This winter, watch for a bear that may wobble out of its den for a few minutes. And look at the fluffy thick coats on all the ungulates (hoofed mammals) and try to identify the gender of some, now that you know when certain males drop their antlers.