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North to Alaska - Live!

by Kathy 15. July 2011 10:00

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Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center 


Where can you get within mere feet of a massive grizzly bear and not be concerned about whether you will live to tell the tale? The answer is the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. This nonprofit center takes in orphaned or injured animals and provides a home for those that cannot be released back into the wild.

Since we hadn’t yet seen any bears in Alaska, we decided to stop by the Conservation Center on our drive from the Russian River to the city of Anchorage.

The center had two adult black bears, one of which was sitting on top of some logs.


This bear’s name was Kuma, and he has lived at the center for over 9 years. He was only 3 pounds when some homeowners found him in a septic tank hole that they had been digging in their back yard. The mother was nowhere to be found. Because he was so young and wouldn’t be able to learn the skills he needed to survive in the wild, he was given a permanent home at the center.

Next, we saw two young Kodiak bears that were found without their mothers in late 2010.


Kodiak bears are distinct from other grizzlies in that they are found only on Kodiak Island (in Alaska) and have evolved separately from other grizzly bears over the past 12,000 years. They can grow to twice the size of a normal grizzly, with adult males weighing up to 1500 pounds.

We knew that the bears were not actually as “cute and cuddly” as they looked. However, there were many murmurs of “how sweet!” and “aww!” among the small crowd watching the female bear as she tried to get something out of one of the tires:



The center also had three regular grizzlies (also called “brown bears”). The bears’ sprawling home had a pond, some hills, and many small trees—all enclosed by two wire fences, one of them with an electrical charge.

One of the bears was sleeping in front of a small wooden hut that the keepers thought could be used for hibernation:

The hut’s interior, however, had not enticed the bears. Instead, they had dug their own hibernation dens out of the natural terrain. And this year one bear seemed to be creating a burrow underneath the hut’s foundation.

We watched another bear rise up from his submerged position in the pond:


(Look at those claws!)

He then looped around behind the trees and began pacing along the side fence:


Back and forth he walked, coming so close to the people oohing and ahhing on the other side that we could have reached out and scratched behind his soft-looking ears (risking, of course, severe electrical shock from the fence, and getting our hand bitten off).

Even though we came to the center primarily to see the bears, we also enjoyed the other animals—including moose, Wood bison, elk, caribou, and muskoxen.

There were two moose, both males. The first was nibbling on a grapefruit:


A moose sheds and re-grows its antlers every year. This moose’s antlers were not yet completely developed and still had their velvety covering:

The fuzzy exterior has capillaries that feed nutrients to the growing antlers. Once the antlers are fully grown, the moose will shed the velvety layer.

The second moose was lying down:

He had little nubs on top of his head, where his antlers were just beginning to grow:

Other animals that we saw at the conservation center included a herd of Wood Bison:

Wood bison are larger than the Plains bison that dwell in the lower U.S. They have been extinct in Alaska for over 100 years, and the conservation center is playing a critical role in a program to reintroduce the species to the state. This herd came from the Yukon Territory in 2003, and new calves have been born here each year.

We could see many calves, with their distinctive orange coats:

A small herd of elk was nearby:


Their neighbors were some caribou. Both male and female caribou have antlers—so big that we wondered how they can even hold their heads up under all that weight. Here is one seemingly overloaded female:

We had a distant view of some lounging muskoxen:


They were striking creatures, with their swooping horns and shaggy fur.

Like the Wood bison, the muskoxen were once extinct in Alaska, having been wiped out in the 1800’s by hunters, whalers and arctic explorers. In 1930, a repopulation project was started in Fairbanks with 34 muskoxen brought over from Greenland. The breed-and-release program has been successful, and there are now over 2500 muskoxen in Alaska.

We spent a couple of fascinating hours at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, visiting all of the animals. Seeing these creatures out in the wild is always thrilling, but you can only get so close (and even then, for only so long). Here, we could look to our hearts’ content. And we did.

We must have picked up some lucky vibes at the center because we saw our first “wild” bears in Alaska less than 15 minutes down the road, near Girdwood. As we were getting ready to drive across a low bridge, we saw a mama black bear trying to guide her cub down an embankment to the river. The mother disappeared from view, and the baby was starting to follow when all of a sudden a woman on a bicycle appeared. We snapped a photo of the baby bear as it turned to the side and headed for the protection of the bushes:

Hopefully, the mother and cub were soon reunited.

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Comments (4) -

7/21/2014 10:45:05 PM #

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7/21/2014 10:47:52 PM #

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7/21/2014 10:50:09 PM #

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7/21/2014 10:53:40 PM #

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Words for the Heart

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