University of Alberta students in the Department of Animal Health are building African jungles for lions and Arctic environments for sea lions — right in the middle of Edmonton.
The Edmonton Valley Zoo and the department are in the second year of a partnership that allows U of A students to create designs for future zoo animal enclosures.
None of the students’ design plans have been implemented yet, but the Valley Zoo is expected to move quickly with its $50 million renovation plan recently approved by city council.
Milton Ness, the head veterinarian at the Valley Zoo, said the partnership is an ideal opportunity for students to apply their education to a real-life situation.
“What the students are doing is not only thinking about what the design should look like, but about the materials you should use in it, where you can get them and how much they cost,” Ness explained.
The students also focus on the native habitat of the animal, and include those details into their design, Ness said.
“If you look at a zoo that’s built in the 1950s, it’s very different than a zoo enclosure built in 2012,” Ness said, citing the new Arctic shore exhibit as an example.
“In the past, we displayed an animal, and people learned to understand the animal. Now, what we are trying to do is not only create a habitat for the animal, but talk about the environment of the animal.”
Students were able to offer their ideas for the zoo’s new Arctic exhibit, Ness said, which led to a special moment during its opening.
“When we just opened Arctic Shores exhibit on March 17, we had about 600 Inuits that lived in the Edmonton area,” Ness recalled. “One of the Inuit elders came as part of the grand opening ceremony, and when she walked on the site and got a full view of the display, she said, ‘This reminds me of home.’”
Understanding the importance of preserving the natural environments of animals is important for students to recognize, Ness said, as it will improve the quality of life for the animals.
As such, the project becomes a practical and personal experience for students, Ness said, while giving him the chance to “understand the leaders of the next generation.”
The students are not the only people reaping the benefits from the program, Ness added — they’ve also inspired him to become a better educator and veterinarian.
“It continuously challenges me to evaluate everything I do with all the animals, so I learn as much as the students do, bottom line,” Ness said.
“I’m the veterinarian that’s in charge of veterinary care, so this just makes me a better veterinarian. Hopefully, that translates to better care for the animals under my care, which leads to a better life.”
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