Although I moved to Alaska in 1993, I didn’t visit the Alaska Zoo until 2003, when we took our infant son to see the animals. Recently, we went again, this time with all three of the children.
The week of our vacation was unseasonably warm for the Anchorage area, with temperatures up to 79 degrees. The day we chose to go to the zoo, however. . . not so hot. (Win a few, lose a bunch, as my sis says!) But despite the cool weather, the kids all enjoyed wandering around, watching the animals, and closely following our tour guides.
(The tour guides, of course, are the ones with the map.)
With only 25 acres and around 100 different animals, the Alaska Zoo certainly won’t make the list of the world’s biggest zoos. But what it lacks in acreage and animals, it makes up for in character and charm. And this year the Zoo celebrates its 40th anniversary!
It all started with a contest. . . one lucky winner had his choice of $3000 or a two-year-old Asian elephant. He chose the elephant, which was quite unexpected. But it was fortuitous as well, as this blog post might be quite short otherwise.
The elephant, named Annabelle, was soon joined by other animals and a zoo was established in 1969. An African elephant friend, Maggie, joined her in 1983. The elephants painted, using their trunks to hold the brush. Sadly, Annabelle died in 1997, and Maggie was moved to an animal sanctuary in California in 2007.
Currently, the Zoo boasts a collection of animals that are native to the Arctic regions, everything from the animals commonly seen in Alaska (moose, ravens, crows, and swans) to the more exotic (musk oxen, camels, snow leopards, and polar bears.)
Speaking of polar bears, the Alaska Zoo also received national attention in 1994 when zoo patrons decided to get up close and personal with Binky. His first “visitor” was an Australian woman who left behind her shoe. Six weeks later, a group of drunk local teenagers decided to take a swim in Binky’s pool. (There were broken bones and bite marks, but all the humans survived.) The polar bear enclosure has since been redesigned to keep them safe from the humans.
You can click here if you’d like to see what the polar bears are doing right now.
The Zoo also has representatives from the other two major species of bears: first, the black bears (generally considered to be the mildest mannered of the bears.)
(See? Isn’t he cute? Now, I’m not saying I want to go pet him, but from a distance, he’s kinda cute!)
The other species is the brown bear, aka grizzly bear.
Speaking of claws, this was my boys’ favorite animal, the Amur (or Siberian) tiger.
They were some of the most active animals on this chilly day. They paced quite a bit in their enclosure (a safe distance from where we were viewing them!) We didn’t get to hear them roar, sadly.
We did get to hear this animal’s noise. A caribou’s legs make a peculiar clicking noise when they walk. Caribou are herd animals, and they are distinctive among the deer family in that both males and females grow antlers. (They are also common in our location, as they have been known to migrate through our yard, which scares our poor dog a bit.)
Reindeer are domesticated caribou.
You’ll also notice in this picture another fairly common species, Little Boys (boysius littlius.) Here we have two common color variations, the Cotton Duck Jacketed and the Blue Knit Sweatered. I’m told that this species is fairly difficult to domesticate. 🙂
Moving right along . . . from antlers to horns, we have two species that are found on steep mountainsides: mountain goats and Dall sheep.
Here we have some of their distant relatives, the Tibetan yak.
Yet another of their relatives was my little girl’s favorite animal. How do I know? Well, it was the only animal to whom she tried to talk. They make a little humph-ing noise, which she tried to roughly imitate by blowing out her nose in a little snort. (Which sounds really odd; trust me, it was adorable.) Anyway, these are musk oxen (or oomingmak, “bearded one,” in the native language.) There are two in this picture: the baby is standing in front of the mama.
They have a reputation of being somewhat odiferous, but their underwool (called qiviut) is quite valuable as it is extremely soft and does not shrink. And they have been successfully domesticated.
And here we have another mother animal with her three young cubs.
Speaking of me, my biggest surprise at the zoo was this guy (or is it a gal?) I thought that camels were only found in hot, dry deserts. Turns out that this species, the Bactrian camel, is also found in the colder northern regions. Who knew?
Notice that he/she has two humps. The desert-dwelling camel (Dromedary) has only one hump.
Right in the middle of the zoo was a large pond, and a few trumpeter swans. I’ve always liked these were graceful, elegant birds.
Sadly, we were not able to get decent pictures of all the animals to share with you today. However, you can visit this website, where the zoo’s official photographer has posted wonderful pictures of all the animals.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little tour of our little zoo. I’m so glad we can share this with our children; it’s much nicer to see live animals than to only learn about them in books. I have fond memories of my childhood zoo visits and I’m sure that my children will remember their zoo as well!