Monday, October 31, 2016

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

I hope everyone had a wonderful weekend! I got back from Anchorage yesterday morning (and am now in catch-up mode on blogging). I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Vanitha over the past few days. It was such a wonderful treat to be able to spend so much time with her and to really catch up.

Alaska really touched my heart. I'd been there in the past on a cruise, but thanks to Vanitha I was able to explore more below the surface this time. It was off-tourist season and I loved being able to experience life there from a more local perspective. I found the Anchorage area to be an amazing, stunningly beautiful destination with some of the friendliest people I've ever met in my life.
View from the window as my flight was approaching Anchorage's airport
I have a lot to share about the weekend, so I'm going to break things up into a few more-manageable posts. We'll start by talking about the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
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Vanitha and I spent a lot of time there over the weekend and it was my favorite of all the things we did.

From their website:
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is dedicated to preserving Alaska’s wildlife through conservation, education, and quality animal care.

The center maintains large land spaces to house and take care of animals that are orphaned, injured, or displaced. When the animals cannot be released back into the wild, the center gives them a permanent home.
The AWCC currently cares for the only active herd of wood bison in the United States.
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Vanitha and I are both animal lovers so we both consider the AWCC a very special place.

The center does different animal feedings once an hour, which were really fun to watch. Here are the feedings we got to see:

Adult black/grizzly bears
The staff explained that they always try to mimic the bears' natural diets. During warmer seasons, the bears are fed meat. However, at this time of year, bears in the wild are either hibernating or getting ready to hibernate, which means their diets naturally get sparser, too. Accordingly, that day the staff fed the bears a mixture of apples, plus some dog food for nutrition.
The staff threw the food over the wire fences and the bears would sniff around and find everything. They mentioned that bears have an extremely acute sense of smell which is seven times greater than a bloodhound's.

The pictures don't show size scale very well, but the bears are enormous. I think someone said they weigh around 900 pounds. Check out the bear claws!
One of the staff threw an apple over the fence that accidentally hit one of the bears. The crowd gasped, but the bear barely reacted. It was a comical moment!

Here are two of the bears sniffing around.
At one point, one of the bears plopped itself right behind the wire fence and gazed around at the crowd. It was so close you could read the expression on its face.
A few minutes later, the bear wandered back a few feet before plopping onto its behind to observe the crowd again:
I've heard some native Alaskan tribes consider bears to have human-like spirits, and now I understand why. It was really fun watching the bears interacting in such a relateable way.

Lynxes
I grew up with pet cats, so I have a special affinity for felines such as lynxes.

We learned about the history of the two lynxes living at the center. One had been rescued from a wildfire, and the other one had been rescued from an illegal domestication attempt.

You can see both lynxes here:
The one in front was much more sociable than the other. The staff said this one was considered the "alpha" lynx, plus the other lynx was shy after having negative experiences with humans in the past.

Both were fed pieces of chicken, and both were quite tentative about eating.
We learned the "alpha" lynx was getting old, so she had some arthritis and was developing a cataract in her eye. True to form, we witnessed her slip while trying to climb up one of the tree branches. That made me sad. The staff said they would be keeping an eye on her to make sure the slip didn't hurt her.

Here she is crouching under one of the trees afterwards. She is a beautiful creature.
Porcupine
I wasn't expecting to be charmed by a porcupine, but found Kit Kat the porcupine to be surprisingly endearing. (I remember his name in particular because there is another porcupine on site named Snickers. Clever names, yes?) Kit Kat was brought to the center after being found wandering with a snare caught on one leg, which eventually had to be amputated. Thankfully, Kit Kat looks very happy and healthy in his new home.
We learned that porcupines are vegetarians with very few natural predators, and we learned about the characteristics of their quills and how they defend themselves. We also learned that porcupines are surprisingly intelligent and respond well to training. The staff frequently takes the porcupines out to schools and other places for educational visits, et al.

Here is Kit Kat chomping away at a sugar snap pea from a staffer:
 He was an eager little fellow!
After a few minutes, the staffperson gave Kit Kat the bowl, which was filled with peapods, berries, and some vegetable fiber. The staff told us that Kit Kat didn't like broccoli or brussel sprouts, which made me laugh.
Kit Kat was so excited at the contents of his bowl that he soon buried his entire head inside and stayed that way for at least 5-10 minutes. The staff tried to push the bowl back down to the ground but Kit Kat wouldn't budge. It was the cutest thing ever.
From now on, any time I need something to make me smile, I am going to look back at the pictures of Kit Kat with his head in the bowl. =)

Baby Bear
The center has a baby bear which is currently kept separate from the adult bears until it is old enough to interact with them. It was extremely energetic and playful.
The baby bear was small enough that the staff could still go into its enclosure to interact with it directly. They said they worked with the baby at least three times a day, and that it was very receptive to training and interaction.

Sure enough, the baby bear acted very similar to a puppy:

Super adorable!

We had a funny moment where the baby bear was sniffing the ground and a bird flew up behind it. The baby bear turned around and literally jumped in terror at the sight of the bird. Based on the reaction, you would never have guessed that the bear is literally about a million times bigger and heavier than the bird. It was hilarious.

Moving on from the feedings...
Unfortunately we weren't able to see every type of animal onsite get fed, but we did get to see plenty of the other animals going about their normal days. Here are a few:

Caribou
To me, this scene was quintessential Alaska:

Those antlers are no joke! At one point, we even saw two of the caribou briefly locking antlers with each other. The drama! I can imagine things can get ugly when this happens in the wild.

Here's a close-up. It must be tough to maneuver with those antlers in wooded areas. Also, it's not visible here, but we got to see this guy answering nature's call. It doesn't get any more real than that, yes? =D

Musk Oxen
I wasn't familiar with musk oxen, but enjoyed watching them sniffing around and finding ridges in the grass to plop down and make themselves comfortable.
Vanitha told me that musk oxen have extremely warm hair, which natives use to make winter clothing and other garments. She said there is a musk oxen farm near Anchorage, which I would have liked to visit with her if time had permitted! Next time. =)

Deer
There were a few different types of deer onsite. They were very graceful and reminded me a lot of the deer I see back home.

Bison
When I saw these, the lyrics to Home on the Range immediately started running through my head. There were a few baby bison amongst the herd, and you could see the others being careful to keep the babies a bit more protected.

V and I attempted a selfie with the bison in the background
Foxes
It's a little hard to see in the picture, but there are two foxes - one on the ground, and one hiding on the ledge in the corner:
The fox, which had a really beautiful fluffy tail, was very active trotting around.

Seen But Not Pictured Here...
Wolves, an owl, and an eagle.

The wolves looked so much like domesticated dogs that Vanitha and I asked a staffperson how to tell them apart. We learned it can be quite difficult to distinguish the two, to the point that it may require genetic testing. Wow.

In conclusion...
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center was an incredibly heartwarming destination. I loved seeing all the animal interactions in such a natural environment. The staff members are all extremely knowledgeable. They clearly love what they do and it is obvious the animals are very well cared-for. I wouldn't hesitate to visit again and again, if given the opportunity. If I lived in the area, I would love to volunteer there.

To anyone traveling Anchorage or the surrounding areas, this center is a must-visit!

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I will be linking up with LaurenVanIsabel and Marcella for Wanderful Wednesday; with Chris and HeatherLaurenAshleyAmanda and Brian, and Carolann and Macrae for Weekend Wanderlust; and with Arnie and JoSally-AnnAnda, and Anisa and Katherine for The Weekly Postcard.  

42 comments:

  1. I cringe at a memory of feeding bears a bottle of soda at a wildlife "park" in Door County when I was a child. Can you even imagine that? How many bottles of soda those bears drank? I'm nauseous at the thought of it. Glad to see that things has come a long way since then. What a wonderful place!

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    1. Oh my goodness - I can imagine a lot of shenanigans occur at wildlife "parks" everywhere! The bears must have gotten quite the sugar rush and many children do all kinds of crazy things. That aside, definitely one of the greatest things about the AWCC is that the staff strives to keep the setting as natural as possible. I was very blessed to be able to experience it!!!

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  2. Oh my gosh!, the lynxes are so beautiful. The size of the paws are crazy!! It makes me sad to see animals age - like humans, I am sure it frustrates them. Poor kitty. This really does seem like a wonderful place though for them to be.
    The bears amaze me how intuitive they seem to be - Like they were studying you all :)
    What a wonderful way to spend a day. The surroundings look amazing.
    Thanks for sharing your travels! I hope I get there one day.

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    1. I had a feeling you'd especially appreciate the lynxes given that you have a soft spot in your heart for cats. =) Yes, it makes me sad to see animals age, just like humans. At least it's an easier transition for the animals at the AWCC when they get old, compared to if they are out in the wild. YES on the bears seeming so intuitive, they are really intelligent! Thank you so much, Karen! I hope you get to Alaska one day soon, too!!!

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  3. Who knew about porcupines?! Trained?! I'm Dying!! I can only imagine the hours of entertainment this would provide me - seeing a porcupine preform tricks for berries and pea pods ... but not Brussels sprouts. :-)

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    1. Likewise, I started thinking about how fun it would be to have a pet porcupine. =) Kit Kat was such a personality! And you know it about the brussel sprouts, which is something I have in common with Kit Kat, LOL. =)

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  4. So very cool! And the porcupines reminded me of this video...which is my oldest daughter's favorite thing ever on the internet. (Make sure your sound is up). https://youtu.be/cILZ_cB3_so

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    1. OMG - I watched that video and it is so adorable I can barely stand it!!! Thank you so much for sharing!!! When Kit Kat was being fed, the staff mentioned that he would sometimes make little "whining" noises and I imagine they sound exactly like the ones from that video! =D

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  5. Omg your photos make your trip look so amazing - I can't believe how close you were to the bears! Looks like a trip of a lifetime. :)

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    1. Thank you so much, Alexandra! It was very surreal to be so close to the bears, indeed. These bears were docile but seeing their size made me realize how terrifying it would be if you ran into one in the wilderness!

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  6. Wow, love the pictures and I must get to Alaska someday and will definitely need to visit the AWCC! I think it would be such an adrenaline rush to see the black bears and grizzly bears so close up!

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    1. Thanks Pete!!! Yes, Alaska is an amazing destination and the AWCC is so incredible!!! It was the most unbelievable experience to witness the animals interacting from such a close distance. I'd heard local say that obviously summertime is the best time to visit, but if you can't make it then, come on up during the offseason anyways. It's so true! =)

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  7. If I went to Alaska, it would be during the summer. I know my mom wants to do an Alaskan cruise when she retires.

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    1. I did an Alaskan cruise with my mom many years ago and it's a lot of fun! Obviously the conditions are much more pleasant in the summertime, but Alaska definitely has so much to offer that I think it's a great destination year-round!

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  8. The view of those mountains is just amazing!!

    Somebody tried to domesticate a Lynx? That's not 1. very cool and 2. very bright!

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    1. Alaska's mountains are stunning, indeed!!!

      Agreed on how it wasn't cool or bright to try to domesticate a lynx. Admittedly, though, I can understand the motivation because the animals are so adorable! I started thinking how I'd like to have a pet porcupine. =)

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  9. This looks SO cool! Although the bears seem a little scary, not gonna lie. I love foxes! Occasionally we'd get them in my backyard at my parents' house and I loved watching them. I think they're so beautiful. The porcupine is also devastatingly adorable. Cannot handle it!

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    1. Thanks Bethany! The sheer size of the bears was indeed scary, but their temperament in person was very docile. They seemed like giant teddy bears, literally. =) Foxes are so beautiful indeed! And I also can't handle Kit Kat's adorability. I seriously want a pet porcupine now. =)

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  10. Such great photos! I visited the AWCC when I was in Anchorage some years ago and it's so neat to see all the quintessential "Alaskan" animals in a safe setting. I wouldn't be nearly so thrilled to meet a grizzly, or even a porcupine or caribou, in the wild. Did you see any moose?

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    1. Thank you, Kelly!!! Awesome that you visited the AWCC when you were there, too! Isn't it such an incredible setting? Yes, it would be very different to run into some of these animals in the wild, especially if you weren't prepared.

      I'm not sure about whether or not I saw any moose. You know that close-up shot I had of the caribou? When I look back at the map, I took that photo in the moose area - but the antlers don't look like moose antlers, right? Too bad I didn't ask any of the staffers about it at the time!

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  11. Great pics! This place looks awesome! I love that last bear pic where it looks like hes just chillin. Looks like you had a great trip!

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    1. Thank you so much, Kayla!!! I love the bear pic, too - he's looks like a giant teddy bear, yes? Safe travels to Orlando this weekend. =)

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  12. How cute are those animals? I think my favourite is the porcupine. Although I love the human characteristics of the bears, and the bison look pretty cool, too. Oh and the lynx are beautiful. Ok all of it! I'd definitely love to volunteer somewhere like this if I lived near it. We just took a cruise around Alaska (similar to you I imagine!) and I fell in love with the place. What breathtaking scenery!

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    1. You said pretty much what I said, verbatim, about the porcupine being my favorite, but I also loved the bears and the bison and the lynx... et al. =) Great minds think alike, clearly! Very cool that you got to take an Alaskan cruise! It's such a great way to see the scenery from the waterfront. Your pictures must be spectacular!!!

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  13. I would love to see bears one day so I'd totally be up for a visit to the center!

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    1. If you want to see bears, I don't think you'll ever have a more up-close opportunity than at the AWCC!!! Definitely go visit them there!!!! =)

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  14. All those animals! Some scarier than others, but all so awesome. I'm pretty jealous that you got to see bears so close up! But I have to say that the bison are probably my favourites.

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    1. Thank you, Kat! Yes, all of the animals were so unique and so beautiful in their own way. The bison were incredible! I loved watching them in their herds, taking care of their young. Very touching!

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  15. I've seen no wildlife when I went to Alaska last year. Maybe I should have visited the Conservation Center when I went to Alaska. At least there you could see some animals. #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    1. Bummer that you didn't see any wildlife when you were in Alaska! All the more reason to go back as soon as you can. =) I'm sure you still saw some stunning scenery, though, yes? Absolutely check out the AWCC next time!!!!!

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  16. I really want to visit Alaska! This place looks great, I really enjoyed your pictures. You story about the bear getting hit by an apple made me laugh and I agree the porcupine is cute! Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    1. Thanks Anisa! Thank you so much for hosting the link-up, as always!!! Glad you enjoyed the apple story and yay for adorable porcupines. Who would ever think they were so adorable, right? =)

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  17. This wildlife!!! Simply amazing! Can´t wait to visit Alaska one day... #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    1. The wildlife in Alaska truly is amazing! The license plates there say "The Final Frontier" and I think it is such an appropriate description of Alaska. I hope you get to visit very soon!

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  18. Alaska looks an amazing destination to visit. What an incredible experience you had at this Conservation Centre. Definitely now on our to do list! #TheWeeklyPostcard

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    1. Thank you so much, Paul and Carole! I hope you get a chance to visit Alaska soon - the experience is so unlike anything else on the usual beaten path!

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  19. What a cool place to visit! And to be able to get so close to those animals - wow. What a special place indeed. That porcupine though - it did look pretty cute!

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    1. Thank you so much, Juliette! It was an incredible experience, indeed, and I seriously want a pet porcupine now. Kit Kat is the cutest little porcupine, ever!!!

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  20. I am an animal lover too, so, I would love to visit a place like this. The porcupine is so cute. Like you said, you are not expecting a creature like that to be so adorable. And they nailed the name! #WeekendWanderlust

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    1. Ruth, if you are an animal lover, you would be in pure heaven at the AWCC!!! Yes, who knew porcupines were so adorable, right? I want a pet porcupine now. =D You too?

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  21. I just want to give that bear a big ol' hug (even though he'd probably rip me to shreds! I'm surprised how well they react to all the people watching them, even though I guess they're probably used to it. Looks like a great place to visit!

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    1. I want to give the bear a big ol' bear hug, too! (Get it? BEAR HUG? HAHAHHAHAHAHAHA!) I was also surprised how well adapted the bears were to all the humans, but after having visitors on a daily basis they probably don't think anything about it anymore. =) It is a great place to visit, indeed - I highly recommend it!!!

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