At the end of Day Two our intrepid little group got a wonderful chance to visit the 200 acre Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, a non-profit refuge for orphaned, injured and/or ill animals that wouldn’t have a chance out in the wilderness. Wide parcels of free-roaming land provide natural habitats for the wide array of animals providing a perfect setting to photograph them doing what comes naturally. There are also programs in place to reintroduce certain species into Alaska such as bison and elk who have not been in the region for over 100 years.
Like kids in a candy store – we took our maps and zoomed off in different directions to explore. Here are some of my favorites (please note that the datestamped photos are courtesy of my friend Lenore.
MOOSE – The moose is an iconic symbol of Alaskan wildlife. I never realized how enormous they are until I got to see them up close and personal. First a funny photo- the angle at which this moose was lounging made him appear as though he was just a moose head with legs:
Here is the entire moose from another angle so you can see this was not just a prop:
This moose’s antlers are still growing in- moose loose them every year after mating in order to conserve body energy during the winter. When fully grown, antlers can be quite impressive – the largest recorded was over 83 inches across. Take a look at this rack, hefted by John:
Now for the “aw” factor – ready?
These little guys were hiding in the grass – and it took a bit of patience to wait for them to pop up. At birth, baby moose weigh about 30 pounds and they grow very quickly and can outrun an adult human at just five days old. Despite their ultimate adult size, moose are quite nimble and are also good swimmers. Mommy moose stay with their young until the next mating season.
CARIBOU – Ok might as well get all the cuties out at once – here is a baby Caribou with its mommy – Lenore got this great first shot of motherly love – or was she just trying to wash behind his ears – M-O-M!!!
Here’s daddy watching over his harem:
Bear – Two bear species reside at AWCC – brown or grizzly bears, and the black bear. I have been told that bears have very distinct personalities and a few we saw definitely proved that supposition. I certainly didn’t want to get too close to the grizzlies, who even as they ambled along felt menacing – so thank goodness for zooming lenses:
This black bear, however, was a clown. Sitting up on a hill in the grass he definitely appeared to be posing! He would face one way, then the other and change position, sitting still for a few minutes each time.
BISON – I’ve always associated this great beast with the WIld West of the “lower 48” (as the Alaskans call it) but it appears they were also once part of Alaska’s ecosystem. As mentioned, the AWCC, in association with several conservation groups and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are working towards reintroducing these animals to the area. Currently the only “wood” bison living in Alaska are those we saw and there are hopes that after 100 years, this breed will be reintroduced into the wilds of Alaska. This is of great importance to the boreal (relating to the forest areas of the northern North Temperate Zone, dominated by coniferous trees such as spruce, fir, and pine) forest ecosystem in Alaska as it has lacked a large, lowland grazing animal for at least a hundred years, and this is a chance to restore a missing part of the ecosystem.
MUSK OX – Did you know that this wooly creature is actually part of the goat family? Their dense winter coat, called Qiviut is considered to be one of the warmest materials in the world – how’s that for trivia!
LYNX – Unfortunately this lynx was cat napping up in the rafters so it was hard to get a photo – just like a cat to be uncooperative:
I think this lynx was one of the three kittens that were brought to AHCC in 2004 suffering with severe burns from an Interior Alaska wildfire. The location of the mother was unknown. One died, but two females survived and this may be one of them. Ordinarily kittens stay with their mom for a year, learning to hunt and fend for themselves, so since these lynxes were orphaned at such a young age they instead are permanent residents of the center.
OWL – Another sleepyhead was this horned owl – although it at least has an excuse since it is nocturnal – shh let’s not disturb his beauty sleep:
EAGLE – There were many eagles flying around the grounds – although some migrate south for the winter, many remain in Alaska year round, visiting during breaks from flight or hunting near the Turnagain Arm.
A bald eagle gets its white head feathers when it becomes mature at the age of 4 or 5 years old. An immature bald eagle is brownish – so it can be confused with golden eagles. We saw immature bald eagles and fully grown bald eagles on a later Alaskan adventure, to be covered in another post.
Save the best for last. I think Adonis was my favorite – his regal bearing showed nothing of his sad plight. Adonis arrived at the center in 1995 as a shooting victim, despite the fact that it is illegal not only to harm an eagle, under the Bald Eagle Protection Act, but also to even possess a feather – only the First Nations indigenous people are allowed that honor.
Adonis’ left wing was so badly damaged that it unfortunately needed to be amputated. Undaunted, Adonis sits regally upon his perch and surveys all with a proud demeanor. What fierce beauty – and a great living testament to the fabulous work done by the AWCC.
Next up: another glacier walk and laughing at marine animal antics.