Wilder Institute to open new conservation facility near to Strathmore

·4 min read

The Wilder Institute is excited to announce it will soon be opening its new wildlife conservation centre south of Strathmore, which has been under construction for the past year.

Jamie Dorgan, director of animal care, health and welfare with the Wilder Institute/Calgary Zoo, said the project is much longer in the making than the time occupied by the new facility’s construction, and that the team is excited to get started.

“It’s been a long time in the works, so we’re really excited to be nearing the finish line and we have already started occupying the site,” said Dorgan. “We got the property about six years ago and then it’s taken us a lot of planning and fundraising and everything else to get set up.”

The grand opening for the conservation centre was originally scheduled for June 14, but was postponed until June 28 due to adverse weather conditions.

According to Dorgan, the team began looking to relocate roughly a decade ago, as the City of Calgary was slowly encroaching on their Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre, which they aim to keep as private as possible for the benefit of their animal residents.

“Probably over a decade ago, we started talking about moving. We have our conservation center currently just south of the city, near De Winton, but that area is becoming more and more populated with city expansion,” said Dorgan. “We’ve had that facility since the 1980’s and as time has gone on with more people around and the area becoming more busy, it’s become a bit of a concern for us.”

The team’s concerns are not with confidentiality¬ — in fact it’s quite the opposite. The facility is not open to the public as many endangered and at-risk species are being housed and bred at the facility with the intent to release populations back into the wild. Habituating the animals to people is not beneficial to rebuilding the species.

The new site location was chosen as it was conveniently located nearby enough to Calgary, but is also on a plot where city expansion will not be of concern for a significant amount of time.

“When we found the property that we purchased, we were pretty excited about it … it felt like a really nice location for us, for a lot of our programs, but also to have that privacy and the ability to really settle in and set up long term roots for some of these programs that we’ve been doing, and potentially for future programs as well,” said Dorgan.

The Wilder Institute spent several years planning and fundraising for the new facility to be constructed at the new site, and just as construction was about to begin, the COVID-19 pandemic began and put the move on hold.

Now that the team is getting ready to move in, Dorgan said they are excited for the possibilities that a modern, larger and updated facility will offer them.

“Having all new infrastructure allows us to kind of start over and maybe make a few improvements in areas for the facilities that we’ve been working with a long time,” said Dorgan. “A lot of the infrastructure we have at our old Wildlife Conservation Center was getting a little bit old and tired for some of our programs that have been operating Since the 80s and 90s.”

One example, Dorgan explained, was with respect to the marmot building, which struggled to maintain ideal temperatures in the winter critical for hibernation and breeding of the species.

The new facility will also allow the team to dramatically increase the capacity of some of their breeding programs. Dorgan said namely, there are plans to double the capacity of the burrowing owl program.

“We expect similar for our leopard frog program as well to be able to increase our capacity in terms of what we hold and potentially breeding output. Hopefully we will be producing more frogs for release,” said Dorgan. “We have a lot of room to expand, so if there are future needs for more and our government partners or other partners are looking for us to expand, there is potential for us to do more on this big piece of land.”

The site is not open to the public, but the Wilder Institute does plan on doing community engagement and some tours for the community to know what’s going on at the facility. They will also be looking for support by way of volunteers and donations.

More information will be made available once the regular team is settled into the new facility.

John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times

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