With the May arrival of a quartet of pandas, the Calgary Zoo is set to become an even more popular destination for animal lovers. But it’s hardly the only place in the province where you can see a menagerie of mammals (and birds, and amphibians, and reptiles, and more). Visit these parks and museums for close encounters with all manner of animals in Alberta.
WILDER INSTITUTE/CALGARY ZOO
Yes, pandas are the zoo’s newest and biggest animal attraction, but it’s also home to dozens of other amazing species from around the world. Last year, the zoo debuted its open-concept Land of Lemurs habitat, filled with three varieties of the cute primate native to Madagascar. Other exotic favourites include a trio of majestic amur tigers, giraffes, gorillas and hippos.
BANFF & JASPER NATIONAL PARKS
The varied terrain and microclimates of Canada’s most famous pair of parks promotes exceptional biodiversity. But it’s in the mountains where you’ll find some of the most impressive specimens. Brawny bighorn sheep are typically spotted in the area around Lake Minnewanka, just outside the Banff townsite. And Jasper visitors often seek out “Goat Lick” at kilometre 38 of the Icefields Parkway: Mountain Goats are known to congregate at the roadside spot, attracted by a mineral-rich silt deposit that they just love to, well, lick. Remember, though, to treat all wild animals with caution and respect: keep your distance, don’t offer them food, and watch for defensive warning signals. Buy a 2018 Parks Canada Discovery Pass at any AMA centre for easy entry into national parks: AMA members save $10 on a family pass.
EDMONTON VALLEY ZOO
This intimate zoo has been delighting residents of Alberta’s capital city for nearly 60 years. Today it’s home to more than 350 animals. Want to learn more about the creatures from Alberta’s own “backyard”? Check out the likes of majestic ferruginous hawks and playful river otters. For those whose animal interests range farther afield, there’s a rare snow leopard, komodo dragons, a friendly Asian elephant and much more.
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ELK ISLAND NATIONAL PARK
Despite its name, Elk Island’s claim to fame is its renowned bison conservation program (though elk and other many fauna are also found in the park). Sizeable herds roam the 194-square-kilometre area; over the years, their numbers have contributed to reintroduction initiatives everywhere from Montana to Alaska to Sakha, Russia. In summer, visitors can get a behind-the-scenes look at the park’s conservation efforts on a Bison Backstage Tour. Offered on weekend afternoons starting in July, the guided, hour-long experience leads you through the bison corrals for a new perspective on the beasts’ place on the Canadian Prairies and plains around the world. Pre-register for the tour at the park’s visitor centre. Buy a Parks Canada Discovery Pass at any AMA centre: Members save $10 on a family pass.
ROYAL TYRRELL MUSEUM
Wildlife doesn’t always have to be alive to be captivating. Just look at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, which is of course renowned for its collection of 160,000 fossilized animals and plants, including dozens of mounted dinosaur skeletons. A must-see newcomer? The 5.5-metre-long nodosaur—the best-preserved armoured dino ever discovered. It’s a highlight of the museum’s current Grounds for Discovery exhibition, which showcases fossils unearthed by industrial activities across the province.
WATERTON LAKES NATIONAL PARK
A UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, the smallest of Alberta’s national parks is nonetheless bursting with diverse wildlife. About 40% of Waterton’s total area was severely damaged by last year’s Kenow wildfire, but the eastern portion of the park remains open for exploration—as does the Bison Paddock Loop Road, just inside the park gate, from which you can typically see the grazing herd from the safety of your car. In fall, the annual Waterton Wildlife Weekend (Sept. 13–16, 2018) features guided hikes, trail rides, boat tours and many more ways to see the animals. If you’re lucky, you might even spot golden eagles soaring over the mountains en route to their winter nesting grounds. Buy a Parks Canada Discovery Pass at any AMA centre: Members save $10 on a family pass.
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HEAD-SMASHED-IN BUFFALO JUMP
The primary feature of this UNESCO World Heritage Site is its namesake cliff, which is one of the oldest, largest and best preserved buffalo jumps in North America. The site affords a glorious vista of the surrounding foothills and prairie, while offering a millennia-old view of Aboriginal history—and the buffalo hunt that sustained the Plains peoples. Discover the ancient buffalo-hunting culture in the interpretive centre—through exhibits, audio/visual presentations and guided tours with Blackfoot interpreters. Save 10% on admission.
MEDICINE HAT ARENA
Have a close encounter with animals of a different stripe in southern Alberta: Medicine Hat’s 4,000-seat arena is home to the city’s Western Hockey League team, the Tigers. Join their mascot, “Rroary”, in cheering on the fiercely competitive squad every September through to March.