Brawn Family Foundation Gifts $2 Million in Support of New Otter Habitat and Visitor Destination

May 24, 2023 | 4 minute read

24 MAY 2023 (Calgary, AB) – New life has been breathed into one of the zoo’s most iconic spaces thanks to a generous $2 million gift from the Brawn Family Foundation.

As part of the Canadian Wilds Redevelopment project, the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo announced today that the generous donation from the local family will be attributed specifically to redeveloping the North American river otter habitat. The family has a deep connection with the zoo that goes back generations. Their passion for the zoo and legacy of philanthropic giving has seen them generously donate over $2.4 million to other projects throughout the park.

“Protecting our natural world is not only essential for the survival of countless species, but it’s also critical for the well-being of our planet,” said Kelley Buckley. “Beyond the excitement of unveiling a new home for the zoo’s North American river otters, we’re grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the important work being done by the zoo to help save vulnerable wildlife from extinction.”

In recognition of this generous gift, the building has been renamed “The Brawn Family Foundation River Lodge”. Nestled on the banks of the Bow River, the building (which resembles a quintessential log cabin), and its surrounding system of newly installed pools and streams will become a destination for visitors to learn about Canadian wildlife and conservation while providing a state-of-the-art home to the zoo’s otter bevy.

“It’s with the support of partners like the Brawn Family Foundation that we are able to deepen our focus on iconic Canadian wildlife conservation at each stage of this redevelopment project,” said Jamie Dorgan, Interim Chief Operating Officer at the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo. “The new North American river otter habitat was designed with the needs of our seven resident otters in mind. They are an amazingly inquisitive, active and social species, and we’re thrilled to be able to provide them with a more engaging habitat, and build a more inviting space for our visitors to enjoy thanks to this generous gift.”

The Canadian Wilds zone has been educating visitors and future conservationists for over 40 years. Through the redevelopment of the 21-acre space, the zoo aims to excite and empower visitors to take action in support of some of the nation’s most loved species-at-risk. Located on a sacred spot known to the Blackfoot people as ‘Mohknistsis’, the reimagined zone will be reflective of the history and the stories that the land has to tell us. Through collaborations with the Blackfoot people and other Indigenous communities, the new immersive experiences are designed to deepen the connection between humans, wildlife and the land. In addition to deepening storytelling, this massive undertaking will provide larger and more complex habitats for some of the animal residents. Included in the first phase of development are woodland caribou, North American river otters, whooping cranes, as well as providing a new home for an Arctic icon – the polar bear.

None of this would have been possible without the generous support of valued donors, funders and government partners. In addition to the Brawn Family Foundation, the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo would like to thank the Taylor Family Foundation, the Province of Alberta the City of Calgary, the Department of Canadian Heritage and Prairies Economic Development of Canada, along with many other donors for their generous support.

When the zone fully reopens this Fall, the new Canadian Wilds experience will encourage people to see themselves as part of the wonder, right alongside the magnificent wildlife that calls Canada home. For more information, visit

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For more information contact:
Alison Archambault
Director, Brand & Engagement
(403) 232-7766 | (403) 919-9482 |