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Dr. Clement Lanthier, president and chief executive officer of the Calgary Zoo, at the facility’s new panda exhibit to open May 7

Dr. Clement Lanthier, president and chief executive officer of the Calgary Zoo, at the facility’s new panda exhibit to open May 7. Wil Andruschak © 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.

Joel Schlesinger © 2018 Postmedia Network Inc.

The Calgary Zoo is more than just, well, a zoo.

One of the city’s most revered institutions, it is again proving why it is world-renowned.

“We want to lead, and to do that, you need a unique  focus,” says Dr. Clément  Lanthier, president and chief executive officer at the Calgary Zoo.

Of course, it’s still a zoo — a place where thousands of Calgarians and visitors interact with animals including, starting on May 7, four giant pandas on loan from China.

But the zoo is also a leader in conservation, including the reintroduction of at-risk and endangered species such as the swift fox and Vancouver Island marmot.

“In 2011 and 2012, we did a big review of our master plan, revisiting our vision and mission and it became very clear we wanted to lead Canada in conservation.”

The organization has  done more than talk the talk, it has increased its full-time staff devoted to conservation from one full- and one part-time employee to 21 full-time PhD, masters and post-doctoral specialists in the field.

Lanthier points to its work with the swift fox — a species that has all but disappeared from the Canadian prairies — as evidence of how the zoo is becoming an agent to reintroduce species back into the wild.

“Swift fox was extirpated from Canada for decades, and the Calgary Zoo has been very instrumental in looking after the science of reintroducing them to the wild,” he says.

But reintroduction is about more than breeding animals and releasing them.
“You have to also make sure that the wild is ready for this animal to come back.”

This is especially challenging as climate change increasingly affects ecosystems, hampering animals’ ability to survive, he adds.
Still, the zoo’s role as a place for the public to connect with wildlife cannot be underestimated.

“Operating a zoo is our way to create support and, just as importantly, cash flow to support our conservation initiatives,” he says. “When you have a rock star of the animal kingdom in your backyard like the panda, it’s an opportunity to build support for those less-charismatic species,” he says.

“It starts the conversation about other endangered species that aren’t on people’s radar — like the spiny horned lizard or the Vancouver Island marmot — and makes raising support for reintroducing them much more successful.”

This feature was created by Content Works, Postmedia’s commercial content division, on behalf of Calgary Economic Development.

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