Steeger Takes Helm at Zoo

Greater Vancouver Zoo's new director Christoph Steeger with April

The Greater Vancouver Zoo in Aldergrove recently added Christoph Steeger, a registered professional biologist, as their new director, who brings the expertise of over two decades of studying animals in the wild.

The focus of his prior work was initially on research and management of forest wildlife and habitat, but over the last decade he has been involved in various projects on the conservation of threatened and endangered species. These include Mountain Caribou, Williamson’s Sapsucker, Great Blue Heron, and various reptile species.

Steeger has been a director of the Columbia Mountains Institute of Applied Ecology and the Salmo Watershed Streamkeepers Society. He’s currently a member of the federal species recovery team for Williamson’s Sapsucker, a woodpecker species from the B.C. Interior.

At the new job his main task at hand is preparing the zoo for its next Canadian Association of Zoos & Aquariums (CAZA) accreditation inspection in 2012.

What does CAZA accreditation mean to the Greater Vancouver Zoo? It is a publicly recognized stamp of approval that signifies excellence in and commitment to their animal collection, veterinary care, ethics, physical standards, staff, conservation, education, safety and security, and finance.

The zoo would not be able to publicly display and educate the public on their exotic animals if it was not CAZA accredited, due in part to the recently amended B.C. Wildlife Act regarding controlled alien species. So this is the top priority for the Greater Vancouver Zoo and its new director.

Among the important changes at the zoo is a complete face lift of the animal nutrition and enrichment programs. Just as humans occasionally need to take a look at what they eat so does the zoo for its animals. To enhance all the animal diets, the zoo has hired a specialist in animal nutrition to provide expertise to the veterinary technician and the animal care staff.

Enrichment is a key part of the animals’ life at the zoo, but what exactly does enrichment mean? Enrichment involves adding removable toys or activity items to enclosures, or special training to promote the animals’ natural behaviours and to keep them mentally stimulated.

The zoo has been doing enrichment for years, but now they are evaluating everything they are doing and asking: “what can we do better and what has priority?” There will be more scheduled times for the public to come and view how the zoo’s enrichment projects are unfolding.

For example, April, a very intelligent dromedary camel, needs lots of enrichment and she is one of the animals they are focusing on.

In addition to the revamping of animal care programs, the zoo will also see some structural changes such as new fences, a new “Animalasium” (educational learning centre) and improvements to many animal enclosures.

“I loved the Greater Vancouver Zoo from the beginning when I saw its beautiful natural setting and the spaciousness of the animal enclosures. Since then I have also been impressed by the sincere sense of responsibility in the care for the animals and the large personal investment of people involved or associated with the zoo,” said Steeger.

“All this is very inspiring and a great basis for moving the zoo forward. Our plan for the near future is to create new and exciting animal exhibits, conservation and education programs, and improvements to the zoo’s infrastructure.

“Our ultimate goal is for Greater Vancouver Zoo to become a leader in conservation, a community centre for our local and provincial residents, and a prime destination for our visitors and tourists from afar,” said Steeger.