Animals are second nature to Assiniboine Park Zoo, and this year’s dramatic transformation has made the site a natural choice for Where Winnipeg’s 2012 Best New Attraction of the Year.
by ERIN CHATELAIN
We all remember touring zoos as children with wide, curious eyes. Young and old experience that same magical wonderment exploring Assiniboine Park Zoo’s newly upgraded animal exhibits. Assiniboine Park Conservancy’s exciting $200 million expansion has completed its first phase, with a revamped Duck Pond, and construction of Nature Playground and Qualico Family Centre. With $120 million earmarked for a dramatic zoo makeover; Toucan Ridge, Shirley Richardson Butterfly Garden, International Polar Bear Conservation Centre and Birds in Flight have emerged as four signature attractions, making Asia, the boreal forest, the Arctic and the Prairies accessible right here at home. Completion of a state-of-the-art 10-acre polar bear habitat, Journey to Churchill, will wrap up the renovation project by 2014.
JUNGLE OF A GOOD TIME – Exotic South American-themed tropical house Toucan Ridge is an impressive indoor jungle basking in recent upgrades that have brought new species, such as Caiman crocodiles and toucans, to the Prairies. Trumpet trees and lush, rambling undergrowth compose a vibrant labyrinth while sunshine paints bright paths through greenery from overhead skylights. Look up at the glass ceiling in this panoramic green scene and try to spot the bright eye-catching beak of a toucan. Pink flamingos balance uni-legged in shallow ponds and squirrel monkeys chatter “chuck-chuck” sounds as visitors saunter through this lush flora enclosure.
SOCIAL BUTTERFLIES – With many species facing endangerment, it is comforting to know the zoo is assisting in the resurgence of many of them, notably the butterfly. Shirley Richardson Butterfly Garden relays the message that butterflies are crucial to the environment, and need to be preserved. Luscious blooming plants and winged beauties colour this garden with bright pigments, while intoxicating aromas invigorate olfactory senses. Nectar’s sugary scent is nature’s way of attracting pollinators, its appeal to human noses is a sweet side effect. The act of pollination is a essential part of our ecosystem and at the garden you can actually watch the process in action as colourful insects perch with long thin legs on flower petals. Two 2,000-square-foot canvas domes called quonsets allude to an open-air feel while more than 700 painted ladies, monarchs, black swallowtails and red admiral butterflies, all native to North America, flutter safely inside. This serene space is enchanting as numerous symmetrical stunners perch on your arm with batting wings. Zoo ecologists in the garden share tips on planting butterfly attracting gardens with classroom-style demonstrations.
BEAR ESSENTIALS – Goliaths of the arctic, polar bears are the biggest species of bear on the planet, weighing nearly a ton (comparable to a small car). Winnipeg’s new International Polar Bear Conservation Centre is also Canada’s first conservation and research facility in its field. The centre aims to play an important role in aiding this endangered species and is comprised of three key facets. The first is a public education component that teaches visitors why these majestic mammals are threatened with extinction and what can be done about it. This is fitting as Manitoba, notably Churchill and the shores of the Hudson Bay, carries the reputation as polar bear capital of the world. The second element includes research and safeguarding of these ice bears, complete with an orphan transition wing allocated for stray cubs. Finally, the last fundamental aspect of the IPBCC is about scientific research and genetic profiling, putting animal knowledge and conservation at the forefront. Furry high-fives all around.
BIRDS OF A FEATHER – Two years ago, the first relocated eagles arrived at Steller’s Sea Eagle Enclosure. Today a new bird show, Birds in Flight, accords audiences the rare opportunity to see these birds of prey engaging in avian acrobatics. Children duck and squeal with joy three times a day (noon, 2 pm & 4 pm) as birds soar full circle overhead and return to the guardian’s well-protected arm. After watching the feathered beauties show off overhead, keepers brief the crowd with an up-close feeding session. These North American raptors performers include owls, hawks, eagles, vultures and falcons that are captive bred at the Canadian Raptor Conservancy in Ontario. The sky’s the limit with these extraordinary birds.
Assiniboine Park Zoo is open daily from 10 am-4 pm. For more information, visit assiniboineparkzoo.ca or call 204-927-6001. Assiniboine Park Zoo, 2595 Roblin Blvd.