Jurassic Forest got seven new animatronic dinosaurs, which were airlifted by helicopter into its 40-acre prehistoric preserve last week.
The preserve, located three kilometres northeast of Gibbons on Highway 28, hosts more than 60 replica dinosaurs. Some of the reproductions represent dinosaurs older than 100 million years from every corner of the planet.
The life-sized dinosaurs were airlifted on July 20 and slowly lowered onto bases in the old-growth forest. The aerial display gave local residents and a few passersby a rare opportunity to see the extinct heavyweights fly across the sky.
J. R. Soloman of Edmonton was driving by when the dinosaur transport occurred. Astounded by what he saw, Soloman returned on the weekend with his family to walk through the trails.
“Mind-blowing. You see this kind of stuff in movies, but you never think it will happen to you,” said Soloman.
Andie Hrenchuk, Jurassic Forest general manager, was tight-lipped about releasing details on the new replicas.
“We want them to be a surprise,” said Hrenchuk.
However, she did hint about two new members of the Jurassic Forest family: the Therizinosaurus and the Spinosaurus.
The Therizinosaurus is a Mongolian long-necked high browser. Categorized as herbivorous, full-grown adults were thought to weigh three tons.
“Its most unusual feature is the very long manual claws on its front legs. They baffled scientists for a while,” said Hrenchuk, who is an under-graduate from the University of Manitoba with a major in paleontology.
The Spinosaurus, or spine lizard, lived in what is now North Africa close to 100 million years ago.
“It was a large carnivore known for the huge sail and spines on its back. It was made famous in the Jurassic movies. It was a big aquatic predator, bigger than even a T-Rex.”
To see the dinosaurs in a relatively natural habitat, visitors walk on a wooden plank trail. As they approach a dinosaur, occasionally partially hidden by branches and foliage, a motion sensor is activated and the animatronic bellows and moves its body.
The animatronics are constructed overseas in China complete with inner electrical wiring and mechanics. The membrane covering the skeleton is a rubberized foam to a create realistic shape and provide durability.
“They’re made to our specifications. Then they come in a boat and are dropped off in Vancouver. They’re taken by truck here and assembled. We bring in a helicopter to lift them onto a solid base stable enough to support them and keep them flat, otherwise, we wouldn't be able to do it. We have to have enough weight that they won’t trip over when moving.”
While the dinosaurs are jaw-dropping, it’s visiting children who give the “edu-entertainment” forest meaning.
“They’re always excited to see new things they haven’t seen before. A lot of little kids already recognize dinosaur names without us telling them. It’s great when they can recognize a Therizinosaurus. It’s great how they can absorb those long crazy names.”
Hrenchuk goes on to add, “Dinosaurs are a fantastic Alberta resource. There are so many fossils in the province and it’s important to celebrate them. We have a beautiful backdrop here at Jurassic Forest. We have old-growth forest and wetlands. With these features, we’re able to make it more realistic for kids and let them imagine what it looked like 65 million years ago.”