Past and present: Alaska Zoo stays true to its roots
October 1, 2021 | View PDF
In August of 1969, the Alaska Children's Zoo opened its doors with a baby Asian elephant, a seal, black bear, fox, goats and a few other animals. At the time, zoo founder Sammye Seawell envisioned a place where the public could come to learn about animals who were taken in because they needed homes. Over the years, generations of Alaskans brought their kids to the zoo and those kids grew up to bring their kids. While the look of the zoo has changed and the animal collection has grown, the mission is still the same. Zoo visitors were able to see our mission in action over this past summer as orphaned and injured animals made their arrivals with wildlife agency biologists.
In May and June of 2021, the annual march of zoo babies began. Staff cared for two black bear cubs, one porcupette (baby porcupine) and five moose calves. Biologists brought each of these animals to us from different situations in different areas of the state. One of the black bears, nicknamed "PW", was rescued from the frigid waters of Prince William Sound by a tour boat operator and brought to the zoo by troopers. The porcupine was brought to the zoo after a local man named Phil found him alone and being harassed by teens. We were so grateful to Phil that our staff named the porcupine after him.
One of the moose calves was orphaned after its mother fell from a cliff near Homer. Each animal comes with a story, each in need of care. Some will have a permanent home at the Alaska Zoo, while others get stronger each day and prepare to be transferred to other zoos where companions await their arrival.
Zoo staff take great pride in helping these animals grow and thrive, however caring for them is only half of the story. Through signs and programs, visitors are taught about these animals and the situations that land them in our care. They learn about the species, conservation issues and become more aware of ways they can co-exist with wildlife. From the youngest camper in summer zoo camp to the eldest visitor, there are lessons to learn and fun observations to make on every trip to the zoo.
The zoo finds itself in the fall season again, only no longer in 1969. Although many things have changed, the mission that mattered over five decades ago still matters to us today. We are proud to be carrying on our traditions of care, education and conservation. We plan to be here for the community and visitors for decades to come, and we will stay true to our roots.
Katie Larson is the Alaska Zoo Marketing and Communications Manager and former Education Director.