Lions, gorillas and dinosaurs

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by MagdaDH_AlexH on November 25, 2010

Calgary Zoo is the second largest zoo (and among the oldest) in Canada. It occupies a large area to the east of the city centre on and around an island on the river Bow.

The zoo's collection includes around 300 species of animals (over a thousand creatures) and, rarely for a zoological garden, the Calgary zoo also incorporates botanic displays at Botanical Gardens and Dorothy Harvie Conservatory. There is also Prehistoric Park, which features stationary and robotic (moving) models of dinosaurs and the environment in which the used to live.

The live animal collection is organised by the area of origin and includes Destination Africa, Canadian Wilds, Eurasia, Prehistoric Park and South America. The highlights of Calgary Zoo include Siberian tigers, Asian elephants, most animals in the African section (giraffes, hippos, gorillas, lions and more),

Entrance tickets cost 19 CAD for adults and 11 CAD for children under 12 years old, infants up to 2 years old are free (2010 prices). There is no family ticket. Trolleys and pushchairs are available for hire for young children.

Smoking is only allowed in two designated places in the zoo (it's forbidden outside as well as in the buildings).


We spend a whole morning walking the paths in the Calgary Zoo and the time we had (about three and half hours) was not enough to see everything at out leisure (and we didn't see the furthest-away animals anyway). In a way, Calgary Zoo is one of those too-large zoos which charge you arm-and-leg for the entrance and leave exhausted without actually even seeing everything – but you can't come back because it's simply too expensive. But one shouldn't complain about there being too much on offer, really.

By far the best section of the zoo is the (fairly new) Destination Africa. Largely under the roof (undoubtedly due to heavy Albertan winters), the large enclosures of this area have the highest concentration of the large, exotic animals that children (and adults too, let us admit) find so fascinating: wonderful giraffes, hippos, and outside, lions. The rainforest house is also excellent, with the magnificent Lowland Gorillas being possibly the most interesting animal in the whole zoo (although I am biased because it was my first live gorilla).

On the way to Africa there is Elephant Crossing, with several Asian elephants wandering in and out of their home, and another of the Calgary Zoo highlights.

On the other side of the water is the Canadian Wilds, which were a bit of a disappointment as there was a distinct lack of animals in comparison to scenery in a large part of the area, and it took ages to walk around and see not that much (but we have seen all of the featured animals in other places, and quite a few in the wild, before).

The Prehistoric Park will be either a highlight of your visit or something to provoke groans, depending probably mostly on your age (or how much child there is in you). A large outside area of which sections are landscaped to resemble Jurassic landscapes, this is an amusement park rather than a zoo, full of stationary an robotic dinosaurs. The robotic ones roar and move either after being activated by a button, or when they see and smell you (these were the best). Kids will love it, grown up kids will be amused and the adults will endure. Educationally, it's of limited interest, but feeds well into the dinosaur mania that is so widespread among children nowadays.

Eurasian exhibit, located nearest to the entrance, is not huge but has some excellent specimens, including simply magnificent Amur tigers and snow leopards. This was the first place in which I saw Amur tigers in such a small enclosure (a cage, really). They didn't look very happy, but for the first time we could actually see them well (usually they tend to hide away from viewers if they have a larger enclosure).


Calgary Zoo is a nice one, if zoos are your kind of thing, and the exorbitant entry price is probably just about justified for those with families by a good selection of animals on display, the attractions of the Prehistoric Park and the fact that it features many of what can be called iconic zoo animals, the exotic ones that we tend to associate with zoo visits: elephants, lions, tigers, giraffes and zebras.

If you have limited amount of time and have seen Canadian animals elsewhere, concentrate on the excellent African section (and make your own judgement on the dinosaurs).
Calgary Zoo, Botanical Garden & Prehistoric Park
1300 Zoo Rd NE
Calgary, Alberta, T2M 4R8
(800) 588-9993

© LP 2000-2009