Gateway to Asia officially opens at the Calgary Zoo

CALGARY — Many Calgarians were sad to see the pandas go back home to China, but their enclosure has been turned into ta new exhibit called Gateway to Asia.

Two new species will also join the Komodo dragons there: a Malayan tapir and two white-handed gibbons.

The building has been closed to the public since December 2020 and that meant the two Komodo dragons weren’t seen by visitors until now.

The two male white-handed gibbons, named Majimel and Maximus, are brothers and join the Calgary Zoo from Safari Niagara in Stevensville, Ont. Majimel is seven years old and Maximus is four years old.

White-handed gibbons, also known as the lar gibbon, are native to the tropical rainforests of Southern and Southeast Asia. In the wild, they’re found in Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand and Laos. They can spend their entire lives in the forest canopy.

“They do feel safe here,” said Jennifer Godwin, the animal care manager. “So they do come on the ground, they do walk bipedally when they are on the ground with their arms up for balance. It’s super comical we love it and could watch it all day.”

20-year-old Tanuck is a Malayan tapir, also called the Asian tapir. It’s the largest of the five species of tapir and the only one native to Asia.

He was a resident here from 2002 to 2003 and now rejoins the Calgary Zoo from Parc Safari in Hemmingford, Que.

The zoo says wild populations of these species are decreasing significantly every year mainly due to habitat loss from deforestation for logging, road construction and agriculture.

“These two species are a really good way to connect visitors to nature,” said Godwin. “Especially forest and forest habitat and how important they are to conserve.”

The three are classified as endangered while Komodo dragons are classified as vulnerable. The three new males are part of an international breeding program.

“It helps create more genetic diversity in the population as a whole so we do get recommendations for breeding,” said Godwin. “Tanuck has had some recommendations, so we’re waiting to hear from the Species Survival Plan, so we might even get a female.”

“Zoos are big contributors to conservation,” said Alison Archambault, the zoo’s director of brand and engagement. “Because everything we do begins and ends with wildlife conservation, inspiring people to care about wildlife and wild places is a very important part of that.”

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