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Home to nearly 1,000 animals across 119 species, the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo is the most visited zoo in Canada and the third top destination for visitors to Alberta. The zoo is accustomed to welcoming people from all over the globe, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, the support of Albertans and Canadians has kept it going.

“That’s been almost more heartwarming,” says Alison Archambault, Director, Brand & Engagement at the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo. “People trusted us to provide a safe space during the pandemic for their families, for their grandma and grandpa. They trusted us as a safe spot to visit, in the same way that they trust us every other day of every other year to take really good care of the animals that we love.”

Children looking at an otter swimming at the Calgary Zoo.

And, even when it isn’t possible to hop on a plane to visit the African Sahara or to explore Asia—whether due to COVID, finances, mobility, or other barriers—visitors to the zoo’s urban forest can immerse themselves in the sights and sounds of wild animals from all quadrants of the earth.

“You can hear the lions roaring all the way across the water in Inglewood,” Archambault says.

As one of only six facilities in Canada accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo is considered the gold standard for excellence in animal care and habitat design in the world.

“The Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo is a conservation organization that has a zoo, it’s not a zoo that does conservation work,” Archambault says. The Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo is consulted worldwide by over 130 governments, not for profits, NGOs, and charities on conservation projects such as deforestation, animal depopulation, and more.


Conservation is at the beginning of everything we do here, whether it’s on park or globally. Conservation is the key to biodiversity and making sure that wild places and wild animals remain.

Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo

This commitment to conservation means that decisions are always made with the animals’ best interests in mind.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the zoo decided to rehome beloved giant pandas Er Shun and Da Mao due to challenges sourcing their fresh bamboo diet. The pandas were originally on loan from China until 2023 and were a popular draw for locals and visitors alike.

“This was an incredibly difficult decision to make but the health and wellbeing of the animals we love and care for always comes first,” Dr. Clément Lanthier, President & CEO of the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo, said as the pandas arrived home at Chongqing Zoo in China in November 2020.

Father and son looking at a giraffe in the Calgary Zoo.

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, including closing their gates for 71 days, staff at the zoo innovated to continue reaching people from all corners of the world, educating them about wild animals and conservation. They created two videos daily—140 videos in total—that reached 52 million people worldwide.

Then, with a week-and-a-half’s notice, the zoo was able to reopen in May 2020, incorporating pandemic precautions like laying down 3,500 paw prints directing one-way traffic, timed ticketing, and reduced visitor capacity.

Archambault says the entire Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo team pulled together to make it happen, from the CEO to the groundskeepers.

“We were reminded how resilient our staff are, how dedicated our volunteers are, and how committed our donors and our members are,” says Archambault. “We felt the love of our community as we tried to find our way.”

The resiliency and dedication of zoo staff is exemplified by Animal Care Supervisor, Barb Campbell. As one of the longest-serving team members—joining in 1979 as a university student—Campbell’s passion for the work she does is palpable.

From hand raising baby red pandas to being present for the zoo’s first ever gorilla birth, Campbell has seen it all. “You never know what’s going to happen in a day when you’re working with living, breathing things,” she says.

As she nears retirement and contemplates a life without daily animal visits, Campbell’s career has come full circle. She was four years into her animal care career during the zoo’s first giant panda loan in 1988, and wrapped things up with Er Shun and Da Mao’s visit.

“I just can’t see me not doing this,” she says, tearfully. “It’s been such an amazing part of my life. We have the best career in the world. We work with some of the most amazing animals in the world. We have such a huge impact on conservation, and if one person that’s come through here or one kid goes home respecting animals or we’ve planted the seed for conservation down the road—man, we’ve done our job right.”

“It just takes one person a day. Everybody can impact one person a day.”

And that work never ends at the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo, as Campbell is called away by a member of her animal care team.

“I have hungry snow leopards waiting for me.”

Visitors can plan their trip to Calgary’s top tourist destination and learn more about the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo’s conservation efforts at

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