One of Discovery Wildlife Park’s newest residents should be well-rested when the season opens on May 1.
Billy, an 11-year-old grizzly bear, enjoyed his first hibernation this past winter. Billy started snoozing around mid-November and didn’t take his first bleary-eyed steps out of his shelter until early March.
Discovery Wildlife Park co-owner Doug Bos said Billy came to them from the Mission, B.C. area last summer. Billy was a TV and movie star, appearing in numerous productions throughout his career. However, when his owner’s health began to fail, a new home had to be found for Billy.
B.C. Fish and Wildlife researched the options and decided Innisfail’s zoo, which already had six other bears, was the best place for Billy to enjoy the next post-stardom chapter in his life.
“They basically felt this was the only viable home for the bear,” said Bos.
Bos said because of Billy’s day job and the need to be available for film or TV shoots, Billy did not hibernate during the winter. It is not uncommon for bears in more temperate parts of the country not to hibernate anyway as long as they have enough food to keep them going.
In Central Alberta, Billy got a real taste of winter and hibernation started looking pretty good.
Bos said despite his lack of experience with the big sleep, Billy snuggled in just fine.
“Instincts just kick in,” he said. “When he went down, he went down quick. He had a long nap.”
Billy spent the winter in the shelter constructed for him at the zoo and happily bedded down in the straw.
Visitors will get a chance to meet Billy and his six bear buddies when the zoo opens for its new season on May 1. There are other star attractions will also be back, including lions, cougars, serval cats, camels, ostriches, rheas, yaks, elk, deer, llamas, porcupines, raccoons and, of course, monkeys.
The wildlife park does not seek out animals for its collection like larger zoos, which often try to find animals representative of certain ecosystems.
“We provide a home for animals that need one,” he said. Often animals will come to them, which have been orphaned, or have been confiscated by fish and wildlife officers or their previous owners no longer can keep them.
The wildlife park is always on the lookout for ways to draw new visitors. Last winter, they introduced Light the Night, a drive-through Christmas light experience created through the installation of 25 kilometres worth of Christmas light strings featuring half a million LED bulbs.
Also proving popular are the cabins that have been installed for campers. Bos started out with six but they were such a hit he added five more and then another six. They also have nearly 50 powered camping spots.
Bos said the cabins have been hugely popular with new Canadians, many of them from the Philippines and who have not experienced Canadian-style camping before. The cabins allow them to enjoy the outdoors without having to buy all sorts of equipment.
He has been surprised how popular the cabins have become.
“I thought we’d maybe rent out all 17 of them, a few weekends a year or maybe over a long weekend. But just about every weekend they were all rented out.”
It is not uncommon to see huge extended families of new Canadians gather at the wildlife park to join those staying at the cabins.
The playground is also being expanded constantly with unique equipment, including a giant wooden monster truck, complete with a slide.
The park also has a list of programs and experiences for visitors, such as presentations on bear safety along with sessions featuring wolves and lions. You can also walk with a wolf or pose for a photo with a bear.
For information on events and prices go to www.discoverywildlifepark.com.