Toronto Zoo

Traditional Birthday for Canada’s First Panda Cubs


In March 2013, Giant Panda couple, Er Shun and Da Mao, arrived at the Toronto Zoo as part of a Global Giant Panda Conservation Breeding Program. On the morning of October 13, 2015, the Toronto Zoo announced that Er Shun had given birth to the first Giant Panda cubs born in Canada.

The Toronto Zoo recently hosted a First Birthday Celebration for their Giant Panda cubs. The lively pair of cubs, named Jia Panpan (Canadian Hope) and Jia Yueyue (Canadian Joy), were treated to a festive birthday party, including some of the other Toronto Zoo babies (in the form of artwork displays) who brought the cubs gifts which contained traditional Chinese fortunes of "Prosperity", "Happiness", "Wealth" and "Lots of Bamboo". Jia Yueyue was quick to select a gift of "Wealth", whereas Jia Panpan let his tummy lead, and he selected a gift of "Lots of Bamboo".2_14589715_1119730518063392_7125892738233464681_o


4_14711613_1119730571396720_8510048094860094170_oPhoto Credits: Toronto Zoo

Media, Zoo staff, VIPs including Mr. Zheng Guangda, Vice President & Secretary General and Ms. Zeying Yu, Vice General Secretary, Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens (CAZG) were on hand to help celebrate this milestone for Canada's only Giant Panda cubs.

"The Toronto Zoo is thrilled to be hosting this one-year birthday celebration for our Giant Panda cubs," said John Tracogna, Chief Executive Officer, Toronto Zoo. "We are grateful to all of the partners who continue to support the ongoing success of our Giant Panda program, including the Chinese Association of Zoological Gardens, Chengdu Research Base of Giant Pandas, Chongqing Zoo, State Forestry Administration of China and the Canadian Embassy in Beijing."  

Toronto Zoo Keepers have had the unique opportunity to experience the growth and development of these rare cubs over the past year, and there have been a number of challenges, balanced with a number of joyous moments, that have been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many of the dedicated and professional staff having the pleasure to work with the Giant Pandas. Karyn Tunwell, Senior Panda Keeper, has been with the cubs from their first day, and said, "Watching them grow and surpass the many milestones throughout their first year has been unlike anything else I have experienced in my career."

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Endangered Zebra Filly Born at Toronto Zoo

1_TZ_GrevysZebraFoal_Photo Credit - C.Thompson, Toronto Zoo - 4

The Toronto Zoo is pleased to announce that Tori, a six-year-old female Grevy's Zebra, gave birth to a filly on July 26. This birth is important for Grevy's Zebra conservation, as the species is currently listed as “Endangered” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. According to estimates, there are about 2,000 left in the wild.

This is the second filly Tori has given birth to at the Toronto Zoo (the first being Leia, in January of 2014, with sire Jake). The new little filly began to walk ten minutes after she was born, which is an important milestone in her development. Both mom and filly are doing well, and she is already starting to develop her own strong and confident personality, according to her Zoo Keepers.

2_TZ_GrevysZebraFoal_Photo Credit - C.Thompson, Toronto Zoo - 6

3_TZ_GrevysZebraFoal_Photo Credit - C.Thompson, Toronto Zoo - 2

4_TZ_GrevysZebraFoal_Photo Credit - K.Haider, Toronto Zoo - 4Photo Credits: C. Thompson/ Toronto Zoo

Grevy's Zebras (Equus grevyi) were first put on the IUCN list in 1986, after their population began to decline due to over hunting in the late 1970s. Today, Grevy's Zebras are primarily found in Kenya and Ethiopia. Over the past 30 years, their global population has declined by approximately 70%. The major threats facing Grevy's Zebras are: loss of grazing habitat, reduced access to available water sources, competition for resources, hunting and disease.

"The birth of Tori's filly is a great opportunity to spread the word on the plight of Grevy's Zebras in the wild," says Maria Franke, Curator of Mammals, Toronto Zoo. "As one of the Zoo's key mandates is to educate visitors on current conservation issues and help preserve biodiversity, this filly helps highlight the importance of zebra conservation and what is being done to preserve this magnificent species in Africa. The Toronto Zoo supports Grevy's Zebra conservation efforts in Ethiopia and Kenya, through the Toronto Zoo Endangered Species Reserve Fund."

The Toronto Zoo’s Endangered Species Reserve Fund supports Canadian species and other critical projects around the world, further emphasizing our ongoing commitment to fight extinction. Every animal at the Zoo is an ambassador for its counterpart in the wild, and each animal strives to create a connection with the public to bring attention to the problems facing species in the wild. The Toronto Zoo believes it has a shared responsibility to care for wildlife on this planet, and the Zoo works hard to be a leader in efforts to save animals and habitats that need help.

The Toronto Zoo is also part of the Grevy's Zebra Species Survival Plan (SSP), which is a series of long-term breeding and conservation plans that act as an insurance policy fighting against extinction to save endangered species. These plans focus on maintaining genetically healthy captive populations and conservation efforts in the wild. Now, more than ever, the work the Toronto Zoo does to save and protect species and their habitats is critical to the ongoing survival of many of the worlds’ most endangered species, including the Grevy's Zebra.

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Black-footed Ferret Baby Boom


Toronto Zoo has been participating in the conservation-breeding program for the Black-footed Ferret since 1992. Since then, the Zoo has bred hundreds of baby ferrets (kits) for reintroduction to the wild in USA, Mexico, and Canada where they were listed as extirpated in 1978.

“The black-footed ferret was once thought to be extinct in the wild. Saving species at risk, like the Black-footed Ferret, is only possible through partner collaboration and the success of international ferret recovery demonstrates how working together can have a big impact on saving critically endangered species,” says Maria Franke, Curator of Mammals, Toronto Zoo.



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This year, Toronto Zoo has 16 adult ferrets. One female, named Twilight Sparkle, after a My Little Pony character, gave birth to four kits (three males and one female) on April 16, 2016.

Kits are born blind, hairless, and are less than 10 centimeters long. Twilight Sparkle was instantly a very good first-time mom, nursing and protecting her babies. The kits weaned at approximately 30 days of age and started eating meat brought over by Mom. A week or so after weaning, their eyes started to open and they began to explore their surroundings.

Now, at almost three-months-old, their personalities are strong and they are very active and chatty. The kits recently had their first veterinary exam and are all healthy, with beautiful adult colors. They are full-grown and the boys weigh more than Mom. Adult females weigh 700-800 grams and adult males 900-1,000 grams.

On June 13, 2016, another female, named Indigo, gave birth to six kits (unfortunately, two were stillborn). Mom and her four kits have been doing very well. Now, at almost one-month-old, they have grown quite a bit, have white baby fuzz, and are even squirmier.

Four other females bred this year; three did not become pregnant. The remaining female, named Fiddlesticks, gave birth on June 22 to one kit.

Females can have between one and seven kits, with an average litter of three to four, so this is a small litter but not uncommon. Fiddlesticks is an experienced mom and not bothered by a single noise in the barn. She has been caring for this kit just as well as she did for her four kits last year.

In the fall, kits will go to the National Black-footed Ferret Conservation Center, in Colorado, to prepare for release into the wild. They will live in outdoor pens and learn valuable skills, such as hunting prairie dogs.

Toronto Zoo is proud to be part of this successful program, which has helped restore the wild population to approximately 300 animals. However, the ferret continues to need help as they face habitat loss and disease.

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Critically Endangered Marmots Born at Toronto Zoo

1_TZ_Sitka&HuntersPups_1monthold - Photo Credit K.Wright, Toronto Zoo

The Vancouver Island Marmot (VIM) is one of the most critically endangered animals in the world, and it is Canada's most endangered mammal.

The Toronto Zoo has been participating in the captive breeding program for the Vancouver Island Marmot since 1997, when it was first approached by the Marmot Recovery Foundation to begin a captive breeding and release program. This Marmot species is one of only five mammals endemic to Canada, and it was North America’s most endangered mammal in 2003, when there were only 30 individuals left in the wild.

Because of significant captive breeding efforts (including the Toronto Zoo's) the wild population has steadily grown. The Toronto Zoo has also been involved in many research projects to help increase the understanding of this unique mammal and has spearheaded studies on mating behavior, pup development and hormone analysis for monitoring reproductive cycles of breeding females. This information is vital to ensure that the VIM experiences a triumphant return to the wild.

"With the expertise, passion and commitment from zoological organizations like the Toronto Zoo, the Vancouver Island Marmot conservation breeding and reintroduction program has been crucial in preventing this species from becoming extinct," says Maria Franke, Curator of Mammals, Toronto Zoo. "This is a huge step in the right direction in saving this truly Canadian species.”

2_TZ_River&ObansPups_3 weeks old - Photo Credit K.Wright, Toronto Zoo

3_TZ_River&ObansPups_3 weeks old - Photo Credit K.Wright, Toronto ZooPhoto Credits: K. Wright / Toronto Zoo


This year, Toronto Zoo has six pairs of adult Marmots. On May 4, 2016, keepers heard sounds coming from one of the nest boxes. To minimize disturbance, keepers wait three to four weeks before opening nest boxes.

At four weeks, four pups were confirmed. On first examination, they were 20-30 cm long and starting to open their eyes. Now, they are almost eight-weeks-old and exploring their surroundings. Sitka, the mother, has been taking very good care of her pups. Because of her cautious and protective nature, it even took her a few extra days to allow the pups to explore the outdoor area. Hunter, the father, sleeps outside the nest box like a good “guard-dad”.

Another pair of Marmots, River and Oban, gave birth to five pups on May 19, 2016. They still snuggle in the nest box but are very vocal, emitting sounds like those of dog puppies. They should be emerging soon.

This year, Toronto Zoo has had a total of nine VIM pups born. Toronto Zoo is also housing one full-grown pup, Rizzo, who was born last year and is appropriately named after the character from Grease-- or the rat from The Muppets--depending on who you speak to! She is quite spunky and will do very well in the wild.

To date, joint efforts from four facilities have released 445 captive-born Marmots back to Vancouver Island, and the population is now estimated between 215-277 individuals. Conservation efforts in Vancouver continue to protect Marmot habitat to help ensure the recovery of this highly-endangered Canadian species.

The Vancouver Island Marmot (Marmota vancouverensis) naturally occurs only in the high mountains of Vancouver Island, in British Columbia. This particular Marmot species is large compared to some others, and most other rodents. The species is currently classified as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN Red List.

*Please note: the Vancouver Island Marmot pups are not viewable to the public.

One-year-old Rizzo:

4_TZ_Marmot_1yearoldRizzo - Photo Credit K.Wright, Toronto Zoo

Endangered Blanding’s Turtles Released in Canada

1_Blanding's Turtles (June 2016) _ credit Heike Reuse (2)

On June 21, the Toronto Zoo, Parks Canada and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) reintroduced 36 baby Blanding's Turtles to a wetland that will be part of Rouge National Urban Park in the Greater Toronto Area (Canada’s first national urban park).

This is the third year Blanding’s Turtles have been released in the park. In June 2015, the same group of partners collaborated on the release of 21 baby Blanding’s Turtles in the Rouge and in June 2014, 10 baby turtles were released.

The long-lived species, with a life span of up to 80 years, has inhabited the Rouge Valley for thousands of years, though prior to 2014 its future was uncertain, with as few as six Blanding’s Turtles remaining.

2_Blanding's Turtles (June 2016) _ credit Heike Reuse (4)

3_Blanding's Turtles (June 2016) _ credit Heike Reuse (1)

4_Blanding's Turtles (June 2016) _ credit Heike Reuse (5)Photo Credits: Heike Reuse 

“Blanding’s Turtles are a flagship species representing a group of animals facing a variety of threats," said Dr. Andrew Lentini, Curator of Reptiles and Amphibians, Toronto Zoo. "Seven of eight turtle species in Ontario are at risk and need our help. All Canadians can learn how to help turtles by visiting Toronto Zoo’s Adopt-A-Pond website and by reporting sighting to Toronto Zoo’s Ontario Turtle Tally.”

In February 2016, Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, and Minister responsible for Parks Canada Catherine McKenna announced that Parks Canada would be making a $150,000 contribution to the Toronto Zoo to support the Blanding’s head start program in the Rouge.

“Blanding's Turtles are an important indicator of a healthy park,” said Pam Veinotte, Parks Canada's Superintendent responsible for Rouge National Urban Park. "Parks Canada is dedicated to re-establishing a healthy, local population of this threatened turtle species in Rouge National Urban Park now and for future generations, and we are thankful for the opportunity to collaborate with the Toronto Zoo and other wonderful partners to conserve and restore threatened species in Canada's first national urban park.”

The turtle eggs were collected from a stable source population in southern Ontario in 2014 and have been raised in a controlled environment at the Toronto Zoo over the last two years. The University of Toronto Scarborough has joined this head-starting project and is assisting with long-term monitoring of the released turtles. Parks Canada, the TRCA and the Toronto Zoo believe that this type of head starting and reintroduction of the turtles, along with long-term monitoring and ongoing habitat restoration, are keys to the animal’s survival in the future Rouge National Urban Park.

The local public can help protect the turtles by avoiding their nesting areas and by contacting authorities if they observe harmful behavior toward turtles or suspicious behavior in their habitat. The location of the wetland housing the reintroduced turtles will not be disclosed at this time to help minimize disturbances and give the animals the best chance of surviving.

The Toronto Zoo and TRCA began collecting information on and monitoring Blanding’s Turtles in the Rouge Valley in 2005. Environment Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry provided funding, permits and in-kind support for Blanding’s Turtle monitoring in the Rouge Valley in previous years. With the area slated to become Canada’s first national urban park, Parks Canada has come on board and will continue to work on a long-term turtle monitoring program.

Earth Rangers, an environmental conservation organization focused on engaging youth in the protection of nature, also provided support for the project by building a facility to house the turtle eggs and babies at the Toronto Zoo.

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April Showers Bring…a Rhino Calf ?


The Indian Rhino calf at the Toronto Zoo is almost seven-weeks-old! He was born February 17 to eleven-year-old mom Ashakiran (also known as Asha) and 12-year-old dad, Vishnu.

(ZooBorns introduced the new guy to readers, soon after his birth: “Toronto Zoo Announces Birth of Vulnerable Rhino”.)

According to the Zoo, the "little" guy is now over 200 pounds. They also report that he has become quite brave, often venturing further from mom Asha and interacting more with Keepers. Although still nursing, staff say he is starting to mouth some food, including: bamboo, apple, browse and the carrots that Keepers provide Asha.

He also loves his afternoon showers, and is often observed playfully rolling around in the water and encouraging mom to come play with him.



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The baby Rhino also has the rudiments of the distinctive horn. Although, it will be some time before it will be noticeable. A Rhino’s horn is made of keratin, like human fingernails. The full horn will not be in place until approximately six-years of age.

The calf has not been named, but the Toronto Zoo will make that announcement soon, via their social media pages. Asha and her son are now on exhibit at the Zoo.

The recent birth is very important for Indian Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis) conservation, as the species is currently listed as “Vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, and there are only approximately 2,000 left in the wild.

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Toronto Zoo Announces Birth of Vulnerable Rhino


The Toronto Zoo would like to announce that Ashakiran, an 11-year-old female Indian Rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), gave birth to a male calf on Wednesday, February 17, 2016.

The recent birth is very important for Indian Rhinoceros conservation, as the species is currently listed as “Vulnerable” on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, and there are only approximately 2,000 left in the wild.

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Reaching near extinction in the early 1900’s, the Indian Rhino (also known as the Greater One-Horned Rhino or Great Indian Rhinoceros) was once listed as Endangered. However, with conservation efforts and strict protection, its status changed in the 90s. This is considered a conservation success story, but they are not out of the woods. Habitat degradation, human-rhino conflict, and poaching continue to be threats.

The Indian Rhinoceros exists in a few small subpopulations in Nepal and India (West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Assam), inhabiting the riverine grasslands of the Terai and Brahmaputra Basins. With 70 % of the wild population occurring in one area in Kaziranga National Park, any catastrophic event could have a huge impact on conservation efforts for this species.

An Indian Rhinoceros' gestation lasts 425 - 496 days (approximately 16 months), and a single young is born between the end of February and the end of April. Subsequently, Ashakiran, affectionately known to her keepers as "Asha", was moved from public viewing into a maternity area within the Indian Rhino habitat mid-January, where video cameras were set in place for Wildlife Care to monitor her closely. While the calf appears healthy, and feeding well, the first thirty days will be critical for both mom and calf. Toronto Zoo Wildlife Care staff will continue to closely monitor Asha and her calf in the maternity area, which is not visible to the public at this time.

This is the first surviving calf for Asha and father, Vishnu (12-years-old). Asha gave birth to a stillborn calf back in 2011, and since then, was able to get pregnant but could not maintain pregnancy. The Toronto Zoo partnered with the Cincinnati Zoo and proceeded to follow their developed protocol of giving oral progesterone to Asha to help her maintain pregnancy. This collaborative research resulted in the birth of this healthy calf and will strengthen conservation breeding efforts in the future. This is the fourth birth of an Indian Rhinoceros in Toronto Zoo's history. The last Indian Rhinoceros to be born at the Toronto Zoo was a female named Sanya (born August 14, 1999), who now resides at The Wilds in Ohio, USA.

"Asha is on a breeding loan from Los Angeles Zoo and it is these partnerships that will bring us one step closer to overall conservation efforts to save this incredible species," says Maria Franke, Curator of Mammals, Toronto Zoo. "I would also like to thank the amazing team at the Toronto Zoo for all of the hard work and dedication that has resulted in this significant birth."

The Toronto Zoo is part of the Indian Rhinoceros Species Survival Plan (SSP), which aims to establish and maintain healthy, genetically diverse populations, and overall conservation efforts to save this incredible species. One of the Toronto Zoo's mandates is to educate visitors on current conservation issues and help preserve the incredible biodiversity on the planet. The Toronto Zoo is in a great position to bring forward the plight of the Indian Rhinoceros and supports rhinoceros conservation efforts in the wild, through the Toronto Zoo Endangered Species Reserve Fund.

*Please note, Asha and her calf are not currently visible to the public.

Toronto’s Giant Pandas Have Their 100-Day Celebration


On January 20, 2016, the Toronto Zoo released a new video highlighting the first 100 days for their Giant Panda cubs. The 100-Day Celebration follows an ancient Chinese tradition that when a child reaches his or her 100th day of life, he or she has survived the risky fragility of infancy and may be considered on track for a successful future.



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Er Shun gave birth to these beautiful twin Panda cubs on October 13, 2015. Born at only 187 grams and 115 grams, these cubs have grown from tiny, pink, and hairless to strong, fuzzy Pandas with distinctive black and white markings.

"The Toronto Zoo is very honored to be participating in the Global Giant Panda Conservation Breeding Program and extremely proud of the births of Canada's first Giant Panda cubs," said Mr. John Tracogna, Chief Executive Officer, Toronto Zoo. “We are very grateful for the ongoing partnerships with a number of institutions around the world who have contributed to our success,” he added.

The Toronto Zoo is hoping to introduce the Panda cubs to the public in mid-March. The Zoo would like to thank everyone for the outpouring of support for these cubs and for following them on this incredible journey.

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Toronto Zoo’s Polar Bear Has Her ‘Eyes Wide Open’


The Polar Bear cub, at the Toronto Zoo, continues to grow and gain strength. At just over two months old, she is still quite wobbly on her feet but works hard to get up on all fours.

She feeds six times a day and was recently introduced to eating from a bowl. The little female continues to explore and become more mobile, bright and alert. Her fuzzy white coat is also becoming thicker.

The cub is still in a critical period of development and is not yet visible to the public.


3_TorontoZooPolarCubTwoMonthsPhoto and Video Credits: Toronto Zoo


On November 11, 2015 the Zoo’s staff were delighted to find that Aurora, one of the Toronto Zoo’s two female Polar Bears, gave birth to two cubs. Despite Aurora showing perfect maternal instincts, including attempting to nurse the cubs shortly after birth, staff were saddened to discover that one of the cubs did not survive the first 24 hours. The remaining female cub was moved to the Zoo's intensive care unit (ICU) in the Wildlife Health Centre (WHC) to give her the best chance of survival.

"Aurora demonstrated good maternal instincts and her cubs did attempt to nurse, but it appears she was not producing any milk to feed her newborns,” said Eric Cole, Manager, Wildlife Care.

Once the cub was moved to the WHC, a team consisting of veterinary staff and animal care experts began the continuous process of monitoring her temperature, taking blood samples, weighing her and feeding her a special formula which has been perfected over time by the Toronto Zoo’s staff given their past experiences hand raising polar bear cubs.

The Polar Bear cub’s care staff are continuing to take the approach of ‘one day at a time’ and adjusting to her daily needs.

Polar Bears are native to the circumpolar north, including the United States (Alaska), Canada, Russia, Norway and Denmark (Greenland). They are at the top of the Arctic food chain and primarily eat seals. Polar Bear populations are declining due to the disappearance of sea ice, and experts estimate that only 20,000-25,000 Polar Bears are left in the wild. Some scientists believe if the warming trend continues two-thirds of the Polar Bear population could disappear by the year 2050. They are currently classified as "Vulnerable" on the IUCN Red List.

Toronto Zoo continues to be involved in a collaborative research project involving multiple accredited zoos to understand Polar Bear reproductive biology. To support their work in Polar Bear conservation, visit

Polar Bear Cub Gets Her Fur

A Polar Bear cub born November 11 at the Toronto Zoo is steadily improving under the intensive care of her keepers. Her fuzzy fur is growing in, but her eyes haven't opened yet.

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The female cub was one of two born to mom Aurora.  Both cubs were attempting to nurse shortly after birth, but one of the cubs died soon afterward.  The staff eventually determined that Aurora, who was exhibiting good maternal instincts, was not producing any milk for her babies.

The surviving cub was moved to an incubator and remains there today, though the incubator’s temperature is slowly being lowered to room temperature.  The cub is fed eight times a day.  After feeding, she enjoys 10-15 minutes of “play time,” where she squirms about.

The zoo staff is pleased that the cub is doing well, but they point out that the first three months are critical for Polar Bear cubs.  For now, the cub remains in the zoo’s medical center, where she is not viewable by zoo guests.

Native to Arctic waters and land masses, Polar Bears are supremely adapted to survive in cold temperatures.  They spend most of their time on sea ice, from which they hunt for seals in the frigid waters.  Polar Bears are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.  Tighter hunting regulations have helped some populations to rebound after decades of declining numbers.  Many scientists believe that climate change has negatively impacted Polar Bears, causing a reduction in sea ice.  As sea ice melts earlier in the season, Polar Bears are forced to move to shore before sufficiently building up their fat reserves for the coming winter.