The Valley Zoo was one of those attractions that had been on my list to re-visit for some time – I had trouble even remembering when I last ventured out there. So I was delighted when I found out one of our board meetings was scheduled to take place at the Zoo, with a behind the scenes tour to precede the more formal portion of our monthly gathering.
A sunbathing alpaca (it had just received a haircut)
The Valley Zoo just celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. When it was originally built, it was conceived as the Storyland Valley Zoo, in line with most of the other zoos built in North America during that time period. Remnants of the original design can still be found around the site, but will soon be retired in favour of a more modern facility.
Humpty Dumpty won’t be put together again
Dean Treichel, the Operations Supervisor of the Zoo, was a fantastic guide, and was obviously passionate about his job and the facility. He was just bursting with pride, and keen to share his knowledge about the zoo with us.
Wallabies and rabbits – too cute!
Tigers, oh my! (we were led into the building where the animals are fed…I have never been that close to a tiger in my life)
Adorable red panda
The piece de resistance of our visit, and what I was most looking forward to, however, was Lucy. There has been much controversy in the past year over the zoo’s lone elephant, but above all the rhetoric, what shouldn’t be lost is how much her keepers care about her. Maureen, for instance, has been with Lucy for 21 years, and cheekily said, “I will be crazy glued naked to her body” if they ever take her away. I’m sure a sense of humour would be imperative to remaining sane under all the scrutiny.
Lucy on one of the seven walks she takes every day
After the tour, Dean presented the Master Plan for the Zoo, which was passed by City Council in 2005. So far, $43 million dollars have been earmarked for capital development over the next two years. What most impressed me about the plan was how the designs will not only provide more learning opportunities for visitors (a key, said Dean, for small zoos), but how they chose to really embrace animals of our northern climate. Moreover, they have incorporated several sustainability features, including a green roof on the sea lion retreat building and an Arctic marshland that will help filter and reuse water, with an end goal of net zero water usage (except for loss due to evaporation).
Many of the habitats he showed us were still in their conceptual stages, such as “forest homes”, which would be built on tree canopy platforms to allow patrons to watch animals in their natural, tree-bound environment. Or, eye-to-eye viewing of prairie dogs and their underground tunnels.
That said, construction has already begun on one of the most impressive planned upgrades – a new habitat for pinnipeds. Dean was confident that the design would lead to award-recognition for the zoo, and based on the slides, I’d have to agree. The 750L seal and sea lion saltwater pool will be stunning, with details that elevate the design from straightforward to remarkable – including theatrical northern lights on the buildings and an acrylic panel that will mean the animals can swim beneath the feet of visitors.
Arctic Shores model
Another project is The Wander, a central trail system through the zoo mimicking the North Saskatchewan River in design that will be lined with play and demonstration areas, and will help visitors navigate the facility.
Though some funding has been secured, the Valley Zoo Development Society is committed to raising $12 million towards the renovations.
Bravo to the Valley Zoo staff for re-imagining what Edmonton’s zoo can be. Best of luck with the fundraising campaign!