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Greater Vancouver Zoo


March 27, 2019

When the zoo first opened in 1970, it was a game farm with lots of animals and small enclosures. Today, the zoo’s philosophy has done a 180 and the focus is on large enclosures for animals that are either captive-bred, rescued or former pets—and their needs come first.

“It’s not like it used to be, you know, ‘Let’s go out into the wild and capture an animal and bring him in for entertainment purposes,’” says Jody Henderson, general manager of the zoo. “Years ago we had large populations of species in the enclosures and now it’s all about having just a few species and as large enclosures as we possibly can.”

A “few” species in the Greater Vancouver Zoo means 140, with 500 animals in total. The enclosures are constantly being updated and upgraded but one of Jody’s favourites is the grizzly bear enclosure. Shadow, a rescue grizzly, has loads of space in an enclosure fitted out with natural elements like trees and even berries. “She digs her own dens all over the enclosure. She has a natural pool out front where she can swim, and lots of hiding areas.”

Those hiding areas can sometimes make spotting the bear a little trickier. But that’s an important part of how the zoo works.

“It’s important for us here to build enclosures that are, first, for the well-being of the animals, and secondly for the humans,” Jody says. “We hope that over time humans will understand they have to spend a bit more time at the enclosure to find the animal as opposed to expecting it to be right in front of their face performing for them, which is such the old style of zoos. We’ve really gotten away from that for many years now.”

Another component of building enclosures with the animals front of mind means adapting to an aging animal population. Animals in captivity sometimes live a lot longer than animals in the wild, and they age just like humans age. The longest resident in the zoo was a rhino who lived to 46. In his final years, zookeepers would give him daily massages; he was given glucosamine and herbal treatments and had his hay cut up into bite size pieces, for easier mealtimes. Just like humans, rhinos’ teeth wear down later in life.

Enrichment is a huge part of daily life at the zoo. Animals, like humans, need something to stimulate them during the day or they’ll get bored. And just like with humans, variety is the spice of life.

“It could be anything from hiding their food if an animal is a digger, like a baboon, or providing them with something that they have to go find using their sense of smell,” Jody explains.

“If you put something in an enclosure, once it becomes furniture it needs to be moved around. Depending on the species, we might put something in an enclosure for a while and that animal will leave its scent all over it. And then if we move that, say, ball over to another animal, it’s absolutely amazing because the scent of the other animal is on it.”

All of the animals at the Greater Vancouver Zoo are rescues or former pets or bred in captivity, as is the case with the Species Survival Program that the zoo participates in, which supports the careful preservation of endangered or extinct animals.

“All of our parrots—macaws—are all former pets,” Jody says. “Probably 85% of our reptiles are former pets and rescues. Our male lion is a former pet. Our lynx are from lynx farms and were dropped off on our doorstep. A lot of the cats are former pets.”

The zoo is also deeply involved in two important conservation programs with Western Painted Turtles and Oregon Spotted Frogs, both native to the area and now dangerously at risk of extinction. The zoo raises both creatures and releases them into the wild. They support other international conservation efforts with 25 cents from each admission into the zoo.

They’ve also added a brand-new medical facility on site, which has a dedicated quarantine space for animals new to the zoo, plus a vet tech office with an operating room and a commissary, where all the animals’ food is weighed and prepared.

Top tips for visiting the zoo

Come early – Many of the animals are more active in the earlier hours than midday, and coming early gives you lots of time to catch many of the daily interpretive talks on offer.

Or come late – On the flip side, visit in the late afternoon and early evening to see a different side of the animals who may be more active in the later hours.

Bring your bikes or blades – The Greater Vancouver Zoo is the only zoo on the continent that allows you to bring your own bikes or roller blades to get around. You can also rent a quad bike at the zoo to get around.

Bring a picnic – The zoo allows outside food, so pack a lunch to save a bit of money and spend some extra time at the zoo’s picnic areas.

Join in the events – Especially in the summer, the zoo offers regular events like day camps for kids and overnight camping experiences for families.

Experience the Greater Vancouver Zoo

5048 – 246th Street Langley, BC, V4W 1N7
Winter Hours – October 1 – March 31 – 9am-4pm
Summer Hours – April 1 – September 30 – 9am-7pm

Images Courtesy of the Greater Vancouver Zoo