- Written by Liam Gillies Liam Gillies
- Published: 22 February 2017 22 February 2017
It was a passion for animals sparked at a young age that led Clement Lanthier to start a career in veterinary medicine and animal conservation.
Now, as CEO of the Calgary Zoo and member of the Canadian Committee of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (CC IUCN), Lanthier oversees a wide range of projects; from the birth of new animals to establishing sustainable conservation programs across the globe.
Lanthier’s became passionate about animals when he was a youngster visiting his family’s vegetable farm.
“I had a dog and I had the opportunity to connect with birds and amphibians and reptiles,” he says. “Every weekend I was playing in the field. And early on I was interested by wildlife.”
Lanthier says while most children grow out of the animal-crazy stage, he got stuck there and never looked back.
Initially, Lanthier thought about becoming a biologist and enrolled in a few oceanographic field courses. After learning there weren’t many available jobs in oceanography, he set his sites on veterinary medicine.
“I thought becoming a veterinarian would get me closer to animals,” Lanther says.
Lanther recalls early challenges from veterinary school — like when he and his classmates dissected a cow. Many students became sick to their stomach’s when the stench of gas was released into the cramped lab room from the bloated bovine carcass.
After much hard work and countless pungent aromas, Lanthier graduated with a doctorate in veterinarian medicine from Montreal University.
After graduating, Lanthier had the opportunity to practice at the Granby Zoo in Quebec. It was there he began to grow passionate for animal conservation.
“I saw the necessity of keeping those animals, to connect people to nature and talk about what's going on,” he says. “But that's 30-some years ago, and [the endangered species crisis] has amplified.”
Lanthier enjoyed working in Granby, but recognized there were places offering better opportunities for contributions to the field of animal conservation.
That led Lanthier to move to Calgary. He loved the Calgary Zoo’s commitment to conservation and he would go on to become CEO and president of the institution in 2003.
Since then, he has been a key figure in establishing many of the zoo’s successful conservationist projects.
One project is a hippopotamus sanctuary in Ghana that helps develop ecotourism in a local community. The Calgary Zoo helps with infrastructure in the community by building lodges, wells and schools.
More recently, the Zoo launched a shea butter factory in the same region.
“The community can collect [the shea nuts] from the hippopotamus sanctuary... because the trees are everywhere in that sanctuary and at night [it’s]a grazing ground for the hippopotamus, so it's a mutual benefit,” Lanthier explains.
Lanthier is proud to work for a zoo with such success stories. But being the head of a large institution means dealing with the tough stuff too.
In 2013, the Calgary Zoo was rocked by record breaking flood waters.
“Mother Nature decided differently the day of the flood...that was a massive challenge,” Lanthier says.
Years earlier, Lanthier and his team had a challenging day when a 14-month-old elephant calf passed away from a viral infection.
The calf’s mother rejected her which lead to to 24/7 care.
“That was a tough day because some individuals have blamed the zoo and [that was] something that was unequivocal. We put forward everything possible to keep that baby elephant healthy and alive.”
But Lanthier remains positive and says the pros of his job far outweigh the cons.
While it’s devastating when an animal passes or is euthanized, it’s exhilarating for Lanthier to work on projects that help protect and bring animals into the world.
“We will continue to provide the best care possible to the animals that we have here on the island,” he says. “I think we cannot compromise on the animal welfare aspect, so we will improve the habitats [...] and make sure that we provide the best care possible.”
Lanthier says the Calgary Zoo will remain dedicated to the happiness of both animals and patrons.
“I think there will be a very bright future for this organization,” he adds.