Montreal

Packing up the penguins: Biodôme animals moving to make way for renos

The majority of the Biodôme's 4,500 animals will stay in the city for the duration of the renovations, which are set to last until next summer. But some of them will have new homes.

Majority of the Biodôme's 4,500 animals will stay in the city, but not all

Many of the Biodôme's penguins will stay in Montreal, except five that will head to the Calgary Zoo. (Radio-Canada/Martin Thibault)

From colourful birds and fish, to lynx, a caiman and dozens of penguins that dive off rocky cliffs into a deep pool of water, it's easy to see why the Biodôme is one of Montreal's most beloved destinations.

But now that long-planned renovations at the museum are set to begin, many of the Biodôme's 4,500 animals are on the move.

The work, approved by Montreal city council during a meeting on Monday night, is set to last until next summer.

In the meantime, most of the animals will have to find temporary new homes.

The transfer of so many animals at one time is something the Biodôme has "never seen before," said Jean-Philippe Gagnon, the facility's animal healthcare supervisor.

But they won't be alone. 

"The people that take care of the animals in the Biodôme will follow their animals. So it's an expertise that will follow the animals," Gagnon said.

Accounting for the time it will take to reintegrate the animals, the city estimates the Biodôme will only reopen in September. (Radio-Canada/Martin Thibault)

The museum's directors say the locations are scattered throughout the city including at the other Montreal Space for Life facilities.

The locations are being kept under wraps to thwart the animals' admirers from trying to catch a glimpse of them in their temporary homes.

Staff have been preparing for the move for almost a year, taking into account the needs of every animal.

The caiman is heading to Hamilton and will probably be replaced by another. (Radio-Canada/Martin Thibault)

Employees will also be visiting them regularly to make sure they're OK.

But it will still be a "major challenge," said Emiko Wong, a Biodôme veterinarian.

So where are they going?

Not all the animals will be staying close to home, either — the caiman is going to a Hamilton zoo, the lynx to Saskatoon and some fish will be headed for Quebec City.

Most of the beloved penguins will stay in Montreal, in a refrigerated room built especially for them in the Biodôme's basement. 

Five are being sent to the Calgary Zoo. Wong will accompany them, ice packs in tow, in case the temperature in their crate gets to be too uncomfortable, she said.

Two of the older penguins won't make the trip back, Wong explained. The plan is to ask Calgary for young penguins in exchange, trading animals in a similar way to how sports teams trade players.

The majority of the Biodôme's 4,500 animals will stay in the city for the duration of the work. (Radio-Canada/Martin Thibault)

Getting closer to the animals

The renovation, dubbed "Migration 2.0," includes plans to construct new walkways and a mezzanine, renovate the cafeteria and modify infrastructure in some of the exhibits.

Rami Bebawi, an architect and partner at architecture firm Kanva, said the idea behind the changes is to give visitors a closer look at the animals.

"Where there's the lynx habitat, we're removing the roof where people would be walking through, and completely revealing the rocks where the lynx is," Bebawi said.

Biodôme staff say the transfer of thousands of animals all at once has never been done before. (Radio-Canada/Martin Thibault)

"When it comes to the beaver, we're actually creating a hut that people can enter," he added.

The Biodôme opened in 1992, inside the building that served as the velodrome during the 1976 Olympics. The city believes that after 25 years, the renovations are necessary to keep drawing visitors to the museum.

The $25-million renovation is slated to wrap up by next June, but accounting for the time it will take to reintegrate the animals and get everything up and running again, the city estimates the Biodôme will only reopen in September.

The Biodôme opened in 1992, inside the building that served as the velodrome during the 1976 Olympics. (Radio-Canada/Martin Thibault)

With files from Matt D'Amours and Thomas Gerbet

now