In April 2006, the Alberta government introduced a set of standards for all provincial zoos, to ensure that each facility meets at least the same basic requirements. These standards emphasize a safe, educational experience for visitors and make operators more accountable for the animals in their care.

The zoo standards were developed with assistance from the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association, the Alberta Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the licensed provincial zoos.

To begin complying with the standards, zoo operators were required to update their zoo plans within 6 months. They were required to make any necessary facility upgrades within one year.

Zoo standards

Zoo standards set out basic requirements to be met by all zoos within Alberta. They address the management of the following:

  • animal collection management
  • animal transportation
  • care of animals
  • conservation education
  • containment standards
  • off-site displays of animals
  • record keeping
  • species conservation
  • visitor and zoo staff safety
  • zoo staff experience and training

These standards provide details on zoo application and renewal procedures, and the cancellation of zoo permits.

They also help to ensure all zoos are operating the same way – providing the same level of protection for visitors and level of care for animals. Albertans can be assured that zoo animals are receiving the same basic minimum level of care in provincial zoos.

What the zoo standards accomplish

The standards:

  • guide department staff in the regulation of zoos and provide clear licensing expectations to the industry
  • help ensure a safe, enjoyable and educational visitor experience
  • ensure a suitable environment for the animals
  • ensure an appointed Alberta Zoo Advisory Committee provides advice to government relating to licensing and standards

Standards for animal care

Exhibit enclosures must be of sufficient size to provide for the physical well-being of an animal, and allow an animal the opportunity to withdraw from contact with other animals or from the view of visitors. Animals should have access to sheltered areas.

Animals should be displayed when possible in exhibits that replicate their wild habitat and in numbers that meet their social and behavioural needs.

Animal 'enrichments' are measures and features that provide a more stimulating environment for animals, for example:

  • rope ladders
  • tubes
  • burrows
  • logs
  • pits
  • scratching posts and walls

Visitors will not be allowed to feed animals except in specific circumstances where food is prepared by the zoo and amounts are carefully controlled.

Alberta zoos

There are 5 licensed zoos in Alberta:

  1. Alberta Birds of Prey Centre – Coaldale, Alberta
  2. Calgary Zoological Society – commonly called the Calgary Zoo – Calgary, Alberta
  3. Discovery Wildlife Park – Innisfail, Alberta
  4. Valley Zoo – Edmonton, Alberta
  5. West Edmonton Mall – Edmonton, Alberta

Zoo permits

All the 5 zoos in Alberta have permits. Zoo permits are normally issued for one year running April 1 to March 31. This permit must be renewed each year and development plans will be amended as required.

Annual permit fees are unchanged and cost $100.

Zoo Advisory Committee

The committee provides expert advice on zoo operations and is responsible to review the individual zoo development plans and provide advice to the Minister (or delegate) concerning licensing and renewal.

The committee reviews animal care protocols required for non-accredited zoos.

Recommendations on amendments to the standards may be brought forward by the committee to ensure that the standards are kept up-to-date with changing circumstances of zoo operations.

Committee members

Committee members include representatives from a national zoo association, Alberta zoos, government officials, the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association, and possibly a member of the public. Presently, there are 5 members on the committee.

Government oversight

Provincial zoos require a zoo permit to possess live animal species whose possession is regulated under the province's Wildlife Act (the species regulated include categories of species listed as wildlife, controlled animals and endangered animals).

The Ministry of Environment and Protected Areas administers the Wildlife Act and zoo permits are issued through the department's Fish and Wildlife Division. Zoo permits are issued for the purposes of public viewing and education only.

The well-being of animals (animal care issues) falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation(Technical Services Division), which administers the province's Animal Protection Act.

Concerns about animal care at zoos are handled by Special Constables employed by the Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) for investigation under the Animal Protection Act. The RCMP will investigate any reported violation relating to animal cruelty under the Criminal Code.

Local development permits are required from municipal governments for zoos to be established.