How to move a penguin and other lessons from the Biodme reno – Montreal Gazette

Posted: January 18, 2020 at 12:49 pm

Penguins, it so happens, dont like to travel solo at least not the five king penguins of Montreals Biodme.

So when renovations began at the nature museum and the king penguins were moved from their sub-Antarctic island ecosystem to the Calgary Zoo in 2018, they all travelled together in the same crate.

We noticed that a penguin is more stressed alone, so it was decided to build a large crate, using a transportation palette as the base, and to transport them together, explained Jean-Philippe Gagnon, one of the Biodmes three living-collection supervisors. They are responsible for about 40 employees who work with aquatic and terrestrial animals and with plants.

It is also stressful for the penguins not to see the source of sounds around them, he said, and so the crate incorporated grilles so they were able to see out. The crate was placed in the cargo section and a Biodme veterinarian was on the same flight.

As the habitats of the 2,500 individuals from 175 species in the nature museum were emptied in April 2018, many of the animals were moved to temporary abodes in Montreal, elsewhere in Canada or the United States. As renovations near completion, plans are in place for the animals to be returned to the Biodme in 2020.

Biodme director Yves Paris checks out the new entranceway of the Biodme on Dec. 9, 2019. The Biodme is scheduled to reopen in the spring.Pierre Obendrauf / Montreal Gazette

A planned reopening in September 2019 was delayed to mid-December, then delayed again. Surprises encountered with demolition of parts of the unusual building, constructed as a velodrome for the 1976 Olympic Games, were in part responsible, said Biodme director Yves Paris. So were shortages of skilled workers and delays in deliveries of materials.

The reopening is now anticipated for the spring of 2020. There could be more surprises, but things are going well and I hope it will be spring, he said.

With one million visitors a year, the Biodme is the most-visited facility in Quebec among museums with admission fees. The goal of the $37.2-million renovation is to make its public spaces more welcoming by creating for visitors a more immersive experience, Paris said.

The museum is unique in the world because it features five ecosystems found in the Americas: a tropical rainforest; a Laurentian maple forest; ecosystems of the Gulf of St. Lawrence; the Labrador coast and the sub-Antarctic islands. Among new elements in the revamped Biodme are a bridge that will permit visitors to climb to the top of the tropical forest habitat for a birds eye view and a tunnel of ice leading into the polar ecosystem inhabited by the penguins.

Although the king penguins at a height of three feet they are among the largest penguins were moved to Calgary, other species of Biodme penguins, including the gentoo and Southern rockhopper, remained in Montreal in accommodations built especially for them.

They are smaller and we were able to create a temporary environment for their size and temperament without moving them, Paris said.

To deter overly enthusiastic visitors whose presence would be potentially disruptive to the population, the Biodme has remained circumspect about the location of the local temporary abodes.

To ensure that the move was as free of stress as possible, preparation for the transfer began long before the actual moves.

Two lynx were moved to the Saskatoon Forestry Farm Park & Zoo in separate crates but at the same time during renovations at the Biodme. Claude Lafond/Espace pour la vie

Biodme director Yves Paris, left, talks to a worker as he walks through the new entranceway of the Biodme. The Biodme is scheduled to reopen in the spring of 2020 following renovations.Pierre Obendrauf/Montreal Gazette

A capybara, a member of the world's largesT rodent species, was transferred to the Magnetic Hill Zoo in New Brunswick as renovations at the Biodme in Montreal got underway, and he will stay there.Sylvie Pilon/Espace pour la Vie

A sloth like this one was moved to Granby Zoo during renovations at the Biodme.Claude Lafond/Espace pour la vie

This is how the entrance to the Biodme will look once renovations are complete./Kanva

A King penguin from Montreal's Biodme at the Calgary Zoo. Some animals were transferred to other facilities in preparation for renovations at the Biodme. The Biodme is slated to reopen next spring. /Calgary Zoo

Biodme director Yves Paris checks out the new entranceway of the Biodme Dec. 9, 2019. The Biodme is scheduled to reopen in the spring.Pierre Obendrauf/Montreal Gazette

An ice tunnel is being added to the polar ecosystem at the Biodme./Kanva

King penguins from Montreal's Biodme at the Calgary Zoo. Some animals were transferred to other facilities in preparation for renovations at the Biodme. The Biodme is slated to reopen next spring./Calgary Zoo

Its important to realize that these are beings we are transporting, said Gagnon, a biologist. There was a long preparation, six months to a year, for many to make sure that the transfer was not stressful for them and to provide for a period of acclimation in the new place.

The Biodme is part of an association of accredited North American zoos that manage their populations with broader vision that goes beyond the needs of a single institution, explained Gagnon. Regular acquisition activities, which favour co-operation and exchanges between North American zoos to maintain genetic diversity, slowed about two years before the Biodme closed.

Those individuals transferred from the Biodme were moved only to accredited facilities, Paris said. These include the Calgary Zoo, one of few facilities with the polar environment necessary to accommodate the king penguin colony, the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, Saskatoons Forestry Farm Park and Zoo, Magnetic Hill Zoo in Moncton, N.B.; Granby Zoo and the Ecomuseum Zoo in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue.

Moving the penguins was relatively simple since, apart from the special crate, they required no advance training or preparation, Gagnon said.

But in other cases, intensive preparation by Biodme workers was needed before animals were moved. They worked with the animals behaviour to effect the transfers, Gagnon explained. Before the six sloths were moved, for instance, a resting space was created in their habitat and a transport crate placed in it that they could choose to enter or not. It was a year before they started to enter the crate on their own.

One sloth was moved to the Kansas City Zoo, where he will remain; another, who was transferred to the Granby Zoo but still belongs to the Biodme, might return, Gagnon said. Four remained in Montreal.

The golden lion tamarin monkey also needed a year to get used to the crate in which the small South American primate was ultimately transported from the Biodme. It was left in his rainforest habitat, empty and initially he didnt want to enter it. Only once he was entirely at ease with it did animal technicians begin to train him to enter the crate, using a system of positive reinforcement and rewards.

Two lynx were transported to Saskatoon at the same time but in separate crates.

King penguins are part of a population management and conservation program known as the species survival plan; its intended to maintain captive populations that are both genetically diverse and demographically stable.

The Biodme had four males for one female; for reproduction purposes, couples are preferred, he said. By putting our two populations together, we were able to re-establish an equilibrium, so that both institutions will be stronger, he said.

The beauty of the operation is that by having a larger number of individuals, the penguins had a larger choice of partners, Gagnon said. Once penguins choose a partner, the two tend to stay together for a long time, he said.

A sloth like this one was moved to Granby Zoo during renovations at the Biodme.Claude Lafond / Espace pour la vie

In August of last year a new king penguin chick, the issue of two of the Biodmes king penguins, was successfully hatched in Calgary. The zoo said the egg was laid by Antoinette, who is 27. Because she and her mate, Louis, had never hatched a successful chick, they had no relatives in the zoo population. Having a chick with new genetics is important to the king penguins species survival plan, the Calgary Zoo said.

For reasons related to the welfare of the animal or the genetics of the population, a small number of animals who were moved will not return to the Biodme but will be replaced. Some of the king penguins are more than 20 years old, and more travel would be stressful.

And we want a few new animals, Paris said.

A capybara the worlds largest rodent species, native to South America went to Magnetic Hill from the Biodme and hell stay there. He is happy there, Paris said.

Besides, his Biodme habitat has been modified to accommodate a group of capybaras, and it would have been difficult to get him used to a group, he said. The other capybaras remained in Montreal, in spaces adapted for them.

Every transfer is a challenge and every one is different, but we can count on the experts, who know how to proceed so that everything goes well, said Marie-Jolle Filion, a communications co-ordinator with Espace pour la vie, the natural science museum complex made up of the Biodme, the Botanical Garden, the Rio Tinto Alcan Planetarium and the Insectarium. (The Insectarium is also closed for renovation and slated to reopen in 2021.)

Those animals moving back to the Biodme will be returned slowly and given time to get accustomed to their surroundings, she said. Returning the animals to places they know should facilitate their acclimatization, she said.

sschwartz@postmedia.com

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How to move a penguin and other lessons from the Biodme reno - Montreal Gazette

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