Toronto Zoo ~ Behind The Scenes Tour

by Festival Nomad “Scoop” Correspondent, Judi McWilliams

“A Moment in Time!”

Welcome to Ontario Visited Behind The Scenes Toronto Zoo Tour …

Although the Toronto Zoo Health Centre is not open to the public, a lot goes on “Behind the Scenes” that are critical to our World! Yes, our World! Although the Health Centre is not “for entertainment”, it does provide a critical component to the Toronto Zoo, the Rouge Valley and the World.

Ontario Visited had the distinct pleasure of a “Behind the Scenes” tour arranged by Katie Gray, Public Relations Supervisor. The Toronto Zoo coordinates with international agencies to share their experiences, insight and knowledge. The Zoo has over 710 acres of “green space”. The encroachment of development can be seen all around. However, fortunately these lands are now protected and named in both Provincial and National Parks. There is integration of walking trails and access through to the Rouge Valley Park and York Region Transit connects visitors to both. Many staff and volunteers offer amazing programs and educational tools to the community and to visitors from around the world.

Different fun rides at the Toronto Zoo, as Ontario Visited goes Behind the Scenes

Our Journey Begins …

The Toronto Zoo has a mandate to address environment, polices, produces and makes recommendations that will lessen our ecological footprint in the Rouge Valley and the Earth! What does that mean to you?

With our ever changing environment, habitat and ecology, it seems fit that a world renowned facility such as the Toronto Zoo takes great pride and steps to conserve, preserve, protect, educate and enhance many aspects of these topics.

While walking through the Toronto Zoo we stopped by their “Zootique” gift shop located near the front entrance. ZooPoo paper products were for sale. I wondered what they meant by ZooPoo. While being a creative unique “gift item”, ZooPoo is the “Coolest Green Technology”.

Toronto Zoo Gift Shop

Green Roofs …

If you are walking by the Australasia Pavilion, you might take the time to “look up” at the Green Roofs. Green roofs, also known as ‘living roofs‘ or ‘eco-roofs‘, are the wave of the future in sustainable design, and the Toronto Zoo is “surfin’ right along with them!” While the term “green roof” could mean many things, it refers here to a roof with one or more extra membranes, including a waterproof and root-proof section that is covered by various types of vegetation. The green roofs on these buildings filter particles from the air and converts carbon dioxide (CO2) into oxygen. The cool air around the building reduces urban heat saving energy costs. The insulation sound benefits the animals and visitors alike.

Under water at the Toronto Zoo

Ice Bear Unit …

On our walk-about at the Tundra Trek … not only are the Polar Bears amazing to watch, I was fascinated to learn the Toronto Zoo helps our environment by using the Ice Bear unit during off-peak electricity time during the middle of the night, when demand on the grid is low to make the large blocks of ice the Polar Bears require. As the ice slowly melts off it helps cool the air in their environment as well. The Ice Bear storage technology is the Zoo’s latest green technology and can be seen just outside the Caribou Café.

During our tour, the question came up, how does this Ice Bear unit save Polar Bears? The answer … “if we all continue to use more energy, the more power stations we use mean more greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases increase the global warming effect = less ice in the sea“. I have to imagine it must impact the longevity of our environment and our world.

With the initiatives that the Toronto Zoo is taking, there’s a lot more that you can learn on their website. There are a number of other initiatives that the Zoo is involved with to help save polar bears, and they were recently introduced to the public via YouTube. The newest sensation… a baby polar bear cub which should be on exhibit by the Spring.  Breeding programs will help the animal care staff at the Zoo learn more about polar bears so we can help them better in the wild.

The Panda Bear has left the Toronto Zoo, but it's not forgotten!

On-Line Dating … In-House Research …

The research “Behind the Scenes” is rich in leadership. An in-house psychology department plays an intricate role in the development of such programs as “on-line dating”, the “e-harmony for animals” as it were. If we look at the Panda’s for example, it is critical to not have “in-breeding”. The oncology and fertilization process is vital to remain pure.

The Toronto Zoo prides itself on their “In-house Research Nutrition” programs. The Zoo can sell its canine diet to supplement some of the nutrition research programs, for example.

The Zoo tries to capitalize on all their exhibits seen in the public as the educational piece for all. As the Toronto Zoo has many new and creative innovations, we found out that other Zoo’s around the world are “happy to work” with them to share knowledge and experiences. The Toronto Zoo certainly have demonstrated their success and it is clear how much the Zoo contributes to society.

For the kids!

Controversy … Or Knowledge? …

I asked, during our walk-about, if visitors might be distracted by the many “fun activities” at the Zoo and perhaps don’t realize the importance of all that the Toronto Zoo contributes. I also asked if there were visitors who were “in distain” of some of the innovations the Zoo offers to visitors. Specifically I refer to the Kids Discovery Zone (Splash Pad) and the new high tower Gorilla Climb Ropes Course.

Controversy occurs in most of our society, from the “nature lover” to the “fun time goers” to the “conservationist” to the “economical goers”. Everyone has their “own opinion” about what is right or wrong, perceived or not, and the Toronto Zoo has many visitors attend for many reasons. In today’s civilized society, Katie Gray, Public Relations Supervisor, tells us, they try to provide people with excitement and fun for the whole family, and once they are here, they try to provide them with information and education about the animals, and hopefully with the ways they can help. The Toronto Zoo welcomes visitors to come out and let them (the Zoo) “show you“. The Zoo is becoming more and more sophisticated and creative in the way they are sharing their knowledge.

A Behind the Scenes look

Our Future …

I asked Katie about nutrition and the prospect of “endangered species” becoming extinct, and, what ramification that would have on our world. Katie tells us, they try to create a natural habitat for the animals here at the Zoo, as it is vital for both the Zoo animals as well as the habitat and species that surround the premises. The best way that we can help the endangered species in the wild, is to learn as much as we can from them in a captive environment, one that is as close to their natural habitat as possible, and then use that information to help them in the wild.

While there has been a “lot of media coverage for the Giant Panda Exhibit”, the panda staff were anxious to share some of the “Behind the Scenes” with us. They are enthusiastic about a “flagship program” where their knowledge will be shared with other organizations. Although Zoos around the world have different weather systems, the habits and behaviors of the species react different in different environments. For Our Future, the Toronto Zoo’sFacebook Page” is assisting with information overload. It is quick and can be awonderful time saving device for sharing information, in a possible critical timeline.

A lazy day

Year Round Experience!

While many visitors to the Toronto Zoo travel during the hot summer months, you may be surprised to learn the Zoo is open YEAR ROUND! The fall splendor we experienced a few weeks ago during October was a completely different experience then what we observed in the summer. Thanksgiving weekend, in particular, we were told had vibrant colours, happy animals. (Our Ontario Visited Toronto Zoo Fall Tour article will tell and show you more).

The Toronto Zoo encourages patrons and visitors alike to become Zoo members. By doing so, you receive mailings, magazines, special offers and opportunities to tour the Zoo on special occasions, prior to it being open to the public. There are also engaging opportunities for exclusive viewings. You even get to avoid long line ups at new viewings, close up and person, a great chance to experience and to absorb all that surrounds you.

Safety at the Zoo …

In talking with Katie, we wondered about the safety of travelling through the Toronto Zoo during these less travelled time, particularly near the perimeters of the Zoo grounds. Katie assured us that there is 24-hour security on site at all times. The Zoo is a great place to teach kids respect for their natural environment and for animals, both the exotic animals in exhibits, but also the wildlife that surrounds the guests during their visit, such as the Canadian geese, the squirrels and you may even catch a glimpse of a deer.  Part of maintaining safety for Zoo visitors and staff is ensuring guests do not approach or feed animals, unless there is a Zoo staff person who is facilitating an animal interaction, which does happen with frequent onsite animal visits throughout the site! Just be as friendly and cautious and respective as you would wish folks coming to your home.

New Campaigns and Initiatives Coming Soon …

The Toronto Zoo prides itself on its conversation, educational and research programs. The Zoo conservation staff participates in everything from habitat restoration, to captive breeding and reintroduction, veterinary and reproductive research, and the exchange of genetic information with other Zoos. There is a new Campaign under was to expand the Health Centre. We were able to see the artistic drawings of the future of this magnificent facility. We understand a new program, once the Health Centre has been completed, will allow members of the Toronto Zoo to be able to sit in front of large glass windows to observe operations of some of the animals. These new initiatives are designed to increase awareness about the Zoo. During the tour we talked about blood samples and anesthetics and the benefits and costs associated with the learning processes. Today’s technicians are required to be the “jack of all trade”. Along the way, we learned that there are many different reasons and restrictions for what they can and cannot do. The Toronto Zoo seems to be taking a more practical outlook.

medical room

Treatment at the Zoo and the Surgical Suite …

The Toronto Zoo has become more and more adaptive to the ever-changing needs of the animals it houses. They have a nursery and ICU to accommodate some of the animal’s medical needs. Although the surgical unit looked rather small to us, the Toronto Zoo explained that even a Polar Bear fits in this area, although the Camel did not!

To help calm the animals during surgeries and other health care experiences, instead of using tubes, like what are used for humans, the animals are given injection anesthesia. The Toronto Zoo often shares their knowledge and skills with other local Zoos and wildlife facilities. The Zoo Keepers and Doctors practice there “blowguns” skills for injecting patients. It is too important to miss a “shot”. Darts range in size from small to large, depending on the size of the animal and skin thickness. The CO2 gun sometimes can frighten the animals, so the Zoo Keepers try to distract the animals from seeing it until the shot is ready.


The Love of the Job ~ “HERMAN” ~ Our Tour Continues

The Toronto Zoo is working diligently on their Capital Campaign to raise monies for the new medical facility expansion. It is hoped that offering special programs to supporters, sponsorships will increase. As an example, the new facility will offer a large glass viewing area that will be available for special access to patrons.

As we toured further into the depths of the health centre, we learned Who’s the Big Boy? This turned out to be our guide’s “Favorite resident, Herman”. Herman was 3 years old in May 2013. Herman, an endangered Vancouver Island marmot, is part of Toronto Zoo breeding program that has helped re-establish the species in the wild. From the outreach team who travelled to Vancouver, where these species have been decimated to only 25. Now the Calgary West Mountview  facility has 350. As these species are in the wild again, it now becomes less likely for there to be in-breeding. In order to be able to release the marmot’s from their breeding centre, the Zoo’s keeps them isolated so that they can become acclimatize to their natural surroundings . They want them to be wild so they can defend themselves when they are released. They are herbivore, eating greens, yam, no fruit and pellets. Their teeth grow continually.  The baby’s are shipped out west to the boot camp and then released. Prior to release they are tagged with a micro chip so that they can be monitored. We asked our Zookeeper guide the reason for their decline. She simply said ~ “human”…. the increase of predication and predators. They are subject to attack from raccoons, coyotes, mink and weasels also.

As we walked through the facility, we came to the “Frozen Zoo“! The Frozen Zoo, the Cryogenics Lab,  is a large room that houses what appears to be steel metal cylinders. This is where the Zoo keeps genetically valuable offspring semen (for example tiger, canine semen). New gens are better then old gens and very valuable. You might think of it like a “Clone” (even with reference to Jurassic Park like), however the science and delicate preciseness, is critical to the future of many of these creatures now becoming extinct species.

Adopt an Animal ~ Your Opportunity

Through our travels in the Health Unit, we start to see beyond the fun, photos, laughter and excitement, it is critical to support the health centre for the Toronto Zoo.

You can help by being part of the “Toronto Zoo Adopt an Animal” program. For example, people have given Adopt an Animal for their “give favours” for weddings or other celebratory events. Gary and I are going to give them as family Christmas presents. You can choose what’s best for you.

Other ways you can support the Zoo is by visiting the Zoo, becoming a member of the Zoo and taking an active role in learning about all the great animals. Other programs offered by the Zoo help save animals and encourage participants to change their lifestyle in ways that support conservation efforts.

Visitors to the Zoo can have a great time discovering the different bi-products that can be purchased at Zoo gift shops. The “ZooPoorecycled paper is just one of the fun ways the Zoo contributes to recycling.

Our tour guide

A Tough Job ~ None Other …

Being a Zookeeper isn’t just a fun job! You need University degrees… biology for example. Our guide today, Katie Gray, Public Relations Supervisor, has a degree from the University of Toronto in biology, a double major and honour to boot!

Katie Gray tells us many other skills are needs in this field, such as crisis management and policies for every possible thing, from protocol, collaboration to politics. The job is hard and stressful and challenging. Plus the job can be frustrating at times, especially when all of these get thrown into the mix. But Katie loves people and loves the Zoo! And that is what keeps all the staff, volunteers and other stakeholders engaged with their role at the Zoo – their passion for what the Zoo is doing to save animals and their habitats every day.

There are about 350 full-time volunteers at the Toronto Zoo. These volunteers make the Toronto what it is today! A fabulous facility for the residents and visitor to the GTA! The Zoo certainly appreciates the work that all their volunteers part and full time do. If you are interested in the Zoo and its “residents“, you might want to contact about volunteering. In the meantime, make sure you visit the Zoo and enjoy all it offers!

 Looking up

Positive Wins Every Time!

There are challenges in keeping life’s positive aspects in the “limelight”. Our recent day at the Toronto Zoo, Media Day, was a great example of “super hype”. Sometimes the Media likes to report the negatives, which may be true, but are not in the best interest of supporting such an invaluable resource as the Zoo. Gary and I truly believe in presenting the best of the festivals, events, attractions, fairs, communities and heritage properties we visit. Each operates as a result of countless staff and volunteer hours. Each putting their heart and soul into the many adventures and dedicated causes. We are proud to report the positive … positivity creates our FUTURE!

I will end our “tour” article with one thought in mind… “what you don’t see while walking about the Toronto Zoo is just as important, if not more so, than what you do see“. The future is for all of us… Preserve, Conserve, Enjoy!

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It’s time to experience and enjoy the Toronto Zoo!

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