Innisfail’s Discovery Wildlife Park provides a forever home to rescued and orphaned animals, educational presentations, and lasting memories.
“Before I introduce you to Trouble One and Trouble Two, we’re going to give you a bear safety quiz to see how well you’d make out if you were traveling in bear country,” Serena Bos, Head Zookeeper at Discovery Wildlife Park, announces. As she begins quizzing us on what we’ve learned so far, two little Kodiak Brown Bear cubs, Bos and Piper, come bounding up to her looking for treats and cuddles. They arrived in March 2021 when they were only two months old, and bonded quickly with Serena. From where we’re sitting, only a few metres away, we can hear them cooing as Serena does enrichment activities with them and simultaneously gives a bear awareness presentation. This level of multi-tasking is no problem for Serena, who has been working with wildlife and exotic animals for over 20 years.
Like all the animals at Discovery Wildlife Park, there is a sad story behind how the cubs ended up here. After the American facility they were born at was shut down, and their mothers were confiscated, Bos and Piper’s fate was “inconclusive” (meaning they would likely be euthanized), so Discovery Wildlife stepped in to adopt the cubs. After “many calls and meetings with the USDA in the States – they’re the governing authority for wildlife – and after a ton of paperwork, we were actually able to bring Bos and Piper up to us.” Bears that were born in captivity and raised by humans cannot be released into the wild, so Discovery Wildlife Park will be the cubs’ forever home. If you follow their park’s Instagram account, you can see the cubs frolicking in the woods, eating berries, and splashing in the water.
Partnership Disclosure: Discovery Wildlife Park generously hosted us for review purposes, but all words and opinions are my own.
Berkley, another orphaned Kodiak brown bear, likes to wave, sit on her bum and hold her hind feet (to Awws and applause from the audience), and stand up with her large paws outstretched to show us how big she is. These tricks are all performed on a voluntary basis, for treats (positive reinforcement only, there is no punishment for not doing what is asked), and serve a purpose. If the bears ever need medical checkups or treatment, they can be instructed to lie down (show their tummies), open their mouths, roll over, or hold up a paw.
Over the course of The Bear Show, we are shown the difference between black bears and grizzly bears, and given tips on how to hike safely in bear country. Visitors are reminded to leave no trace (pack out all trash!), and put away all food and attractants when camping to keep wildlife and fellow campers safe. To make a point, Gruff, a large black bear, demonstrates how to put an empty drink bottle in the recycling bin. It was amazing to see the bears up close in a safe environment and gain a greater appreciation for how intelligent they are.
At the end of the presentation, there are opportunities to take photos with the bears (for $25/photo). Although Bos and Piper, the wee cubs, are super cute, we chose to take a photo with Berkley. We got a photo with her in 2019, so it was cool to see how much she and my kids have grown!
The Lion Show, featuring Griffin and Zendaya (both 6 years old), is equally amazing. We hope to catch The Wolf Show next time!
About Discovery Wildlife Park
Discovery Wildlife Park began over 30 years ago as Doug’s Zoo when Fish and Wildlife started bringing animals to Doug Bos’s acreage in Lacombe. In 2002, the zoo was relocated to its current location in Innisfail, and a few years ago, a campground was built to offset animal care costs.
The 90-acre wildlife park is home to orphaned and unwanted wildlife including exotic animals from other zoos that were either shut down or forced to close due to lack of funding. “We take in animals that can’t be rehabbed and released to the wild,” Doug explains. As we explore the grounds, we see cougars, elk, timber wolves, and racoons as well as lions, Snow Macaques, Bactrian Camels and Serval Cats. The enclosures are spacious and many have pools for the animals to cool off in.
While some privately-run zoos have struggled with covering costs to feed and care for the animals, Discovery Wildlife Park sustains itself without government funding through admission fees, donations, gift shop and concession sales; campground and cabin rental fees; and unique add-on experiences like photos with the bears, Cats & Wolves Behind the Scenes Tours, Wolf Walks, Evening Animal Photography Sessions, School Field Trips, RV Storage, and private Night Tours with limo golf carts. “Going into the park at night when no ones there; it just feels different when you’re there at night.” says Doug. “You can hear the lions roar and hear the wolves howl.”
Doug’s long-term goal is to make Discovery Wildlife Park even bigger. “Some may say why have a 50-year plan when you’re in your 60s?” but he knows the park will be in good hands after he retires. “We’re family run; my daughter Serena will take over the zoo.” Long-term staff like Mari Connors, who “has worked here [in various roles] since she was 14 years old” also keep things running smoothly.
Fun things to Do at Discovery Wildlife Park
For the best experience at Discovery Wildlife Park, plan to stay 2-3 hours so you can attend at least one show. The presentations are super informative and interesting! Here’s how to have a great day at Discovery Wildlife Park:
- Visit the animals: 29 enclosures are spread out over the 90-acre park. See how fast Toodles the Tortoise can walk; feed the camels, ostriches, llamas, or deer (the dispenser puts food into their enclosure – no feeding by hand!); watch Berkley the bear splashing in her tub; and more!
- Watch a Bear Safety, Lion, or Wolf Presentation: High quality educational programs are free with admission. Check the schedule when you arrive at the park.
- Get a photo with a bear: $25 extra charge. You can get a photo taken by a photographer and printed for you OR have staff take a photo for you on your phone. *You must attend the Bear Presentation to get a photo.*
- Play on the play structures or look for “treasure” (coins are hidden daily) in the covered sandboxes: From the climbing wall and tractor to helicopter and space shuttle, kids will love climbing and exploring the play structures. “All my playground equipment is different from everybody else’s,” Doug says. Since Discovery Wildlife works hard to advocate for conservation and the three R’s, the space shuttle was built with used propane bottles!
- Go for a picnic: There are picnic tables in the shade next to the Concession, and there is a covered picnic area near the bear enclosures.
- Get ice cream or Slushees at the Concession (hot dogs, nachos, chocolate bars, and cold drinks are also available)
- Visit the reptiles (and chinchillas) in the Reptile Room
- Walk with a Wolf, Go Behind the Scenes with Cats & Wolves, Go on an after-hours Night Tour, or Photography Shoot: There is an extra change for these experiences, but fees support caring for the animals.
Know Before You Go
Discovery Wildlife Park is open 10 am to 5 pm from May 1st to September 30th. Last admission is at 4 pm. Plan to stay at least two hours so you can attend a Bear Safety, Lion, or Wolf Presentation.
Visiting with babies? There is a family room at the main building at the front where you can nurse/change your baby. The gravel pathways are sports stroller friendly.
Golf cart rentals are available on a first come, first served basis with priority given to seniors and the disabled.
Where to Stay
Discovery Wildlife Park has a campground with 60 power sites, washrooms and showers, a fishing pond, and playground. There are also 6 cabins that sleep 2-4 people or 4-6 people (as of July 2021, 10 more are being built). Listen to the wolves howl at night, go fishing, or sign up for an Evening Animal Experience.
The campground is open until September 19, 2021.
For More Information / Purchase Tickets
For more information, visit Discovery Wildlife Park online.
Purchase Day Passes or Annual Memberships onsite or online.
Book camping at Discovery Wildlife Park | Camping.
Discovery Wildlife Park is located in Innisfail, 120 kilometres north of Calgary, just a few minutes off Highway 2.