Growing up, I was always the kid with an insane love for animals. If there’s a trending video of foxes jumping on trampolines or cats pretending to be dogs, chances are I’ve already seen it. But my love for animals was never just limited to cute and cuddly ones – I was the first to run up and pet the garter snake that the teacher brought in or coo over a couple of tiny white mice. I once even brought home Degus (Chilean mountain mice that look like chinchillas) from the pet store, which promptly reduced my mother to tears.
Needless to say, one of the things that excited me the most about moving to Calgary was the fact that there is a zoo within walking distance of my apartment. The zoo in Toronto was about a two-hour drive from where I lived, so I didn’t make it out very often.
I stopped the Calgary Zoo by last week for a Creature Feature session and met Tundi, a Blue-Tongued Skink. He’s about 11 years old and is one of the critters that the zoo often uses for the Creature Feature because he’s very relaxed and easy to handle. Creature Features are free with your zoo admission and give you the opportunity to get up close and personal with one of the zoo’s less ferocious animals whilst learning some interesting facts about the species and their care.
I learned that Tundi, like many other reptiles, can separate his tail from his body at will – you don’t even have to pull on it. The tail will then twitch and quiver on the ground for about ten minutes to distract whatever predator or other threat prompted the skink to detach its tail. If the ‘threat’ doesn’t eat his discarded tail, Tundi will. It can grow back, but only to about half the previous length.
He can also spit out harmless, bright blue liquid, which is where the species gets its name. This is done to trick predators into thinking that he is poisonous, since many poisonous species in nature are brightly coloured.
“People really enjoy getting up close,” says Tundi’s zookeeper, Patrick. “A lot of people enjoy the opportunity to actually pet it, especially when it’s something like a snake because so many people are afraid of them that getting the opportunity to try and get over that is usually what people appreciate the most.”
The Creature Feature also gives you the opportunity to pose questions to the zookeepers and get information that wouldn’t normally be listed at the animal’s exhibit. For example, I was able to find out Tundi’s weekly feeding routine; depending on what day of the week it is, he gets either vegetables or crickets. On Saturday, he even gets a mouse!
“I’ve had people up from the States who always say how amazing our zoo enclosures are compared to stuff in the States,” Patrick says. “It’s a really high-class institution and it’s hard because a lot of people don’t necessarily recognize that if they live in Calgary and this is just the main zoo they come to. They don’t really go out and see a lot of other zoos.”
If you’re interested in learning more about the animals’ daily care, the Calgary Zoo offers several sessions that give you a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the zookeepers’ days, including summer camps and a variety of observation and job shadow programs. Whatever your age, the Calgary Zoo has an activity to suit your interests. Not all are included in admission so be sure to contact zoo staff for more information.