A new entryway and gift shop is going up at the Greater Vancouver Zoo. (Ryan Uytdewilligen/Aldergrove Star)

A new entryway and gift shop is going up at the Greater Vancouver Zoo. (Ryan Uytdewilligen/Aldergrove Star)

Greater Vancouver Zoo turns to zoom for virtual visits

Aldergrove attraction encourages online learning while construction commences to modernize park

COVID-19 hasn’t slowed the Greater Vancouver Zoo, according to general manager Serge Lussier, who said attendance was up 30 per cent this summer – even with the pandemic limiting access.

“We have been blessed because we are an outside attraction, and because of that, we got discovered this summer,” Lussier said.

He noted that protocols such as mandating foot traffic on all paths go in one direction has made guests feel safer – thus leading to the significant increase of visitors compared to the same time last year.

“We had 10,000 new memberships over the summer,” he said, assuring that though attendance is broadening, the attraction will remain as Aldergrove’s zoo. “The number one location visitors come from is Surrey, then Vancouver, then Langley, then Abbotsford.”

The general manager, who also heads Canada’s Accredited Zoos and Aquariums, has officially been in his position for one year, having taken the position last September.

Lussier announced plans to spend up to $20 million on a four-phased revamp to turn its current Aldergrove facility into a “zoo of the future” earlier this year.

The 120-acre Aldergrove zoo plans to convert half of its facility into an open safari-style park with a primary focus on B.C. wildlife.

This announcement was made after the non-profit Zoocheck Inc. recommended several improvements to the zoo last year, after an on-site visit.

The June 2019 report recommended the institution “expand enclosures to provide more space for the animals,” and focus on more species native to B.C. instead of exotic animals.

Visible from 264th Street is the new entryway, which Lussier said will be completed and officially opened next spring.

The zoo’s old entrance was demolished in April to make room for the much larger admissions entrance, corresponding gift shop, staff offices, and public washrooms.

The 5,000 square foot complex will have a new 1,000 canopy walkway in the middle and be surrounded by a landscaped garden.

“The previous entrance showed old zoo… it showed the past,” Lussier explained. “I like to think in terms of five years from now, not five years ago. This building is a statement.”

READ MORE: Envisioned $20M Greater Vancouver Zoo revamp ‘slowed’ by COVID-19 crisis

Lussier has previously noted that the lions and tiger complexes will be enlarged to a “big city of cats,” as part of the renovations, along with an African Savannah project is planned for 2023 with a 20-foot-high walkway and observatory with a restaurant built on top.

According to Lussier, the revamp will occur over the course of the next five years.

“People are noticing that there is a zoo here now,” he said, insisting that there is plenty more projects that will be announced in the future that will broaden the local tourism industry.

Above all, however, Lussier said the projects are being done to keep kids connected with nature and encourage conservation and wildlife education.

“We want to ultimately provide three things when people come to visit; an experience, discovery, and natural habitat,” he said.

With students heading back to the classroom in such unprecedented times, the Greater Vancouver Zoo decided to launch an educational platform that provides virtual field trips to the zoo using Zoom.

Media relations coordinator Cody Gampe described the program as a fun way for schools or children studying from home to learn in a new way that has been tested throughout the summer with the kid-friendly resource Learn Fort Langley.

The learn from home program is expected to be officially launched by the end of September and accessible for everyone at https://gvzoo.com/experience/behind-the-scenes.

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General Manager Serge Lussier gives a tour of the new facilities going up at the Greater Vancouver Zoo. (Ryan Uytdewilligen/Aldergrove Star)

General Manager Serge Lussier gives a tour of the new facilities going up at the Greater Vancouver Zoo. (Ryan Uytdewilligen/Aldergrove Star)

A new entryway and gift shop is going up at the Greater Vancouver Zoo. (Ryan Uytdewilligen/Aldergrove Star)

A new entryway and gift shop is going up at the Greater Vancouver Zoo. (Ryan Uytdewilligen/Aldergrove Star)

A new entryway and gift shop is going up at the Greater Vancouver Zoo. (Ryan Uytdewilligen/Aldergrove Star)

A new entryway and gift shop is going up at the Greater Vancouver Zoo. (Ryan Uytdewilligen/Aldergrove Star)