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Do not disturb: Calgary Zoo wildlife centre aims to save endangered species

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Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press


Published Monday, February 11, 2019 4:15AM EST

CALGARY — A narrow, snow-covered gravel road winds its way to a hidden gate that opens to a parcel of land on the southern tip of Calgary.

But it’s not a typical ranch property. Behind large, wire fences live a Przewalski wild horse native to Mongolia, Vancouver Island marmots, burrowing owls, greater sage grouse and whooping cranes.

The Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre, which opened in 1984 and is operated by the Calgary Zoo, is dedicated to saving endangered species.

“Often we are the last resort for many endangered species that have struggled in the wild,” explains Dr. Axel Moehrenschlager, the zoo’s director of conservation and science.

Staff aim to give the animals the best possible care and make them suitable to release back into the wild.

“These are species that are destined for the wild, or their offspring are, and so we need to make sure that they are kept as wild as possible. These are extremely sensitive species. We don’t want people to randomly climb fences and being noisy and disturbing the animals.”

The program’s reputation has grown over the years to the point where it is getting requests to take on more species from around the world, Moehrenschlager says.

The centre is also planning to relocate to a more private location east of Calgary within the next couple of years. The city’s urban spread has started encroaching on the property, he says.

“It used to be in the middle of nowhere, but we’ve got developments happening so we need to transition that and move it.”

Some of the animals aren’t bothered by outside stimuli.

“Well come on over. How you doing?” says Calgary Zoo general curator Colleen Baird after calling to two Asiatic horses kept separate from the main herd.

The whooping cranes, however, are a different matter.

Their loud, single-note bugle calls can be heard clearly inside the burrowing owl sanctuary. “They always wake up the neighbours,” Baird says with a laugh.

A visit to see the cranes wasn’t possible because anything upsetting to them could reduce the need to breed.

“They will get cautious and often will shut down and not breed, as the environment and outward cues are telling them that conditions are not ideal or safe to expend all the energy it takes to raise a chick,” Baird says.

“Any changes the cranes will pick up on right away, as they are defending territories and males wanting to have a safe place to do their mating dance to the females.”

The centre is the only facility in Canada that helps breed whooping cranes and its program has been a big success, Baird says. Their global population had dropped to 14 in the 1990s but has since grown to more than 400.

The burrowing owls habitat is also a busy place.

Zookeeper Joan Gellatly has been on the job for 30 years and is responsible for their care and feeding. “We make sure everybody’s healthy and happy, fed and watered. Just like when you’ve got pets at home, it’s kind of our job.”

The burrowing owl program is in its third year. Research teams also grab owlets from the wild in the spring and bring them into captivity for 10 months because they often don’t survive.

At the end of the 10 months, researchers match up predetermined males and females, tag them and release them.

“Then researchers will follow the birds through the summer time. And, if they pair-bond for the season, they nest and the eggs and the owlets hatch out,” said Gellatly.

“We have had success with that.”

Moehrenschlager describes the centre as doing amazing things to help animals and ecosystems.

“All we’re trying to do is prevent extinction so we need to make sure that these programs do their part to help the species.”

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More groups join in support of women in STEM program at Carleton

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OTTAWA — Major companies and government partners are lending their support to Carleton University’s newly established Women in Engineering and Information Technology Program.

The list of supporters includes Mississauga-based construction company EllisDon.

The latest to announce their support for the program also include BlackBerry QNX, CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority), Ericsson, Nokia, Solace, Trend Micro, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, CGI, Gastops, Leonardo DRS, Lockheed Martin Canada, Amdocs and Ross.

The program is officially set to launch this September.

It is being led by Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design with the goal of establishing meaningful partnerships in support of women in STEM.  

The program will host events for women students to build relationships with industry and government partners, create mentorship opportunities, as well as establish a special fund to support allies at Carleton in meeting equity, diversity and inclusion goals.

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VR tech to revolutionize commercial driver training

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Serious Labs seems to have found a way from tragedy to triumph? The Edmonton-based firm designs and manufactures virtual reality simulators to standardize training programs for operators of heavy equipment such as aerial lifts, cranes, forklifts, and commercial trucks. These simulators enable operators to acquire and practice operational skills for the job safety and efficiency in a risk-free virtual environment so they can work more safely and efficiently.

The 2018 Humboldt bus catastrophe sent shock waves across the industry. The tragedy highlighted the need for standardized commercial driver training and testing. It also contributed to the acceleration of the federal government implementing a Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program for Class 1 & 2 drivers currently being adopted across Canada. MELT is a much more rigorous standard that promotes safety and in-depth practice for new drivers.

Enter Serious Labs. By proposing to harness the power of virtual reality (VR), Serious Labs has earned considerable funding to develop a VR commercial truck driving simulator.

The Government of Alberta has awarded $1 million, and Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is contributing an additional $2 million for the simulator development. Commercial deployment is estimated to begin in 2024, with the simulator to be made available across Canada and the United States, and with the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) helping to provide simulator tests to certify that driver trainees have attained the appropriate standard. West Tech Report recently took the opportunity to chat with Serious Labs CEO, Jim Colvin, about the environmental and labour benefits of VR Driver Training, as well as the unique way that Colvin went from angel investor to CEO of the company.

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Next-Gen Tech Company Pops on New Cover Detection Test

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While the world comes out of the initial stages of the pandemic, COVID-19 will be continue to be a threat for some time to come. Companies, such as Zen Graphene, are working on ways to detect the virus and its variants and are on the forefronts of technology.

Nanotechnology firm ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd. (TSX-Venture:ZEN) (OTCPK:ZENYF), is working to develop technology to help detect the COVID-19 virus and its variants. The firm signed an exclusive agreement with McMaster University to be the global commercializing partner for a newly developed aptamer-based, SARS-CoV-2 rapid detection technology.

This patent-pending technology uses clinical samples from patients and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The test is considered extremely accurate, scalable, saliva-based, affordable, and provides results in under 10 minutes.

Shares were trading up over 5% to $3.07 in early afternoon trade.

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