City earns its conservation stripes with expanded tiger habitat at Edmonton Valley Zoo

As you try to catch a glimpse of the two Amur (Siberian) tigers at the new Edmonton Valley Zoo tiger habitat, Amba and Taiga might already be observing you as they peek out from the crest of their new grassy knoll.

Originally, the hill was just outside the habitat’s fencing. Now, it is part of the newly expanded 1,486 square metre tiger habitat, which is about the size of an NHL hockey rink.

The space lets the tigers better express their wild behaviours, and it provides opportunities for zoo guests to learn about tigers and conservation.

“We now have a large area for each tiger, and each day they’ll alternate yards and they’ll have lots of exercise,” said zookeeper Brenda McComb. “This gives them the space needed to exercise and gives us the ability to change their environment daily so they see something different.”

Crews inspect fencing near the new training wall, February 2019 (left), work underway in the grassy knoll area (right)
 The expanded tiger habitat at the Valley Zoo features a new grassy knoll

Not like any other project

Jack Ashton is the Director, Facility Infrastructure Delivery, for the City of Edmonton.

“It’s not like any other City project,” said Ashton of the new digs.

“There’s a lot to consider and we had to be sensitive to how the construction activity and noise might cause disruption to the animals.”

City infrastructure teams worked with zoo staff to keep disruptions to a minimum and to keep construction crews safe.

The tigers were kept apart at different times. There was always a double fence (with a metre of distance between the two stands) separating the workers from the tigers. Crews were instructed to not have any contact with the cats.

 Taiga, September 1, 2020

Greeted by one of the tigers

Early morning site visits looked a little different for Curtis Reynolds, Project Superintendent for PCL Construction.

“Everyday at 6:30 am as I started my site check, I’d be greeted by one of the tigers,” said Reynolds. “The tigers came right up to the existing fence and would follow me closely as I went around the perimeter of their home. It was a great but totally different way to start my day.”

The work for the tigers continued the City infrastructure team’s tradition of zoo renewal projects since 2012, including the Entry Plaza, Nature’s Wild Backyard and new habitats for the lemurs and the seals.

The newly expanded tiger habitat features larger viewing windows (left) and a sliding training wall (right) where visitors will be able to watch zookeepers interact with the tigers.

Simulating and stimulating

Amba in July 2020

It will take time for Amba and Taiga, who have lived at the Valley Zoo for 12 years, to get used to their new space. Like most animals, tigers are naturally wary of new environments. However, the new area will be mentally and physically stimulating for the tigers, and will alter day to day.

For example, tree branches and other natural elements will be re-positioned to imitate the appearance of a changed wild environment as the animals move through it. Amba and Taiga’s hide and hunt instincts will be exercised in various ways, such as in hiding food, rubbing different scents on spaces in the enclosure and putting goodies inside papier mâché for them to tear apart.

Protecting an amazing species

The new habitat, which took about 10 months to complete, more than doubles the size of tigers’ space. It includes a new public training window, two viewing areas, upgraded LED lighting and security and control systems, including a double fence.

Amur tigers like Amba And Taiga are an endangered species.

“This investment demonstrates our commitment to protecting this amazing species and supporting wildlife conservation in general,” said Lindsey Galloway, Director of the Edmonton Valley Zoo.

“The Edmonton Valley Zoo can now expand its role in the Amur Tiger Species Survival Plan, which is an international coordinated breeding program for captive endangered species.”

The Valley Zoo is a holding facility in the Amur Tiger Species Survival Plan (SSP). With the added space, there is an opportunity to become a breeding facility in the future.

Reserve your time online

To see Amba and Taiga’s new habitat, and every other amazing part of the Valley Zoo, remember to reserve your zoo admission time. Visit www.valleyzoo.ca to learn more.

Amba on the new grassy knoll, September 1, 2020

Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post is Amba last year.