The Greater Vancouver Zoo hosted a 48th birthday party over the weekend, celebrating its achievements in protecting species and enhancing its local environment.
There was plenty of entertainment, from bouncy castles and the Springman family band performing in the zoo’s picnic area, for the families who turned out for a day’s stroll around the parklike setting.
The zoo has benefitted from major investments by the new owners over the past three years. A Chinese investor, who prefers to remain anonymous, has made major investments in much-needed infrastructure improvements, says animal care manager Menita Prasad.
“Many of these things are not visible, such as water well and septic upgrades, but they have made a real difference for us here,” said Prasad.
The 120-acre park has also welcomed a number of new residents, such as a young giraffe who joins his brother in their habitat.
“They really get along great, it’s been good to see them enjoy each other’s company,” said Prasad.
There were also a pair of black bears and a pair of cougars, all orphans, who have all recovered from their traumas and injuries in the zoo’s care. The bear and cougar enclosures are next to each other and while they are playful with each other they keep a close eye on their new neighbors — they cougars are especially watchful of what the bears are up to.
Also celebrated is the ongoing western painted turtle conservation program, in conjunction with Wildlife Preservation Canada (WPC).
The turtles are endangered on this coast and are protected under law, but since 2011 the zoo’s breeding program has grown to be an outstanding success. This year about 170 one-year-old turtles will be released into the wild from the zoo’s quarantine section, and there are 200 hatchlings that will follow in the next season.
Andrea Gielens of WPC said the turtles are about the size of a quarter and weigh five grams on birth, and are highly vulnerable to predators at this stage. Once they’ve reached 30 grams their shell is hard and they can be released, safe from the jaws of raccoons and other predators, at 15 sites in the Fraser Valley. They can live to be 60-years-old and the females are about the size of a dinner plate and weight two and a half pounds, while the males are quite a bit smaller.
“Between May 15 and July 15 biologists go out and look for the turtle eggs and cover them with a metal cage to protect them from being trampled on or eaten,” said Gielens. “Some are brought back to the quarantine area at the zoo where we incubate them and raise them for release the next year. It’s been very successful, over 90 per cent of the turtles breed every year.”
The zoo also breeds the endangered Oregon spotted frog, a program the zoo has been involved with since 1999. Special tanks currently hold 2,300 tadpoles, and of these 2,000 will be released in river areas in the Fraser Valley.
The zoo is also involved with the Salish Sucker enhancement program in conjunction with the salmonid river restoration work in the Salmon River which flows throughout the 120-acre zoo site.
Mike Pearson of Pearson Ecological recently completed an off-channel pond for fish to winter in, connected to the Salmon River, and shoreline planting of native species will be completed shortly.
While these are not programs open to the public they are an important part of the zoo’s mission here.