It may have been muddy, damp, and a bit chilly, but no one cared. The brown bear cubs wrassled around their play structure, playfully bawling as they cuffed each other. The musk ox male stood his ground and refused to yield to some red-jacketed journalist who thought his grunts and growls were funny. A porcupine named Sasha nibbled daintily on broccoli and cabbage from atop a discarded moose antler. The atmosphere was decidedly unhurried and peaceful, despite the loving rumblings from would-be suitors over in the musk ox enclosure.
Welcome to the Alaska Zoo’s most treasured season.
In 40 years, the Alaska Zoo has provided 49th state families and Outside visitors with moments of discovery and awe (or maybe that should be “awwwww”) as people wander wooded pathways of the property in south Anchorage. A zoo dedicated to the preservation and education about animals and birds of the circumpolar north, the Alaska Zoo’s mission is to provide insight into the well-adapted creatures who manage to thrive in regions that look to us inhospitable.
While most visitors arrive during the spring and summer months, the Alaska Zoo prides itself on a year-round activity calendar that encourages interaction and education on a year-round basis. It may be cold, wet, stormy, or all three, but the zoo has a wealth of fall and wintertime events and opportunities that don’t appear during the busy summer months, and are worth exploring.
Whether you’re in Anchorage for a short visit or enjoy resident status, here are four reasons for making tracks to the Alaska Zoo, even as temperatures drop and snow begins to fall.
- Education. I spent yesterday at the zoo in the company of 130 kids from Mears Middle School who were investigating adaptations of northern animals to life in the Arctic regions. We touched bones, feathers, and fur. We saw a wolf up close. We listened to the story of Sasha the porcupine, and heard the howls from the entire wolf pack. Kids and adults can take advantage of field trips, special encounters, camps, and activities designed to nurture the curiousity we all have, but sometimes forget to use.
- Special events. From ZooBoo (coming up fast) to Wolf Day, the Alaska Zoo’s special events are not just formal opportunities to spend more money, they’re real-world adventures with a family fun twist. Why not make trick-or-treating special by receiving a Snickers bar from the camels, or walking through a tunnel of lights around the holiday season? There’s even yoga and music and an outstanding lecture series.
- Animals. Have a fancy for one or more of the animals at the zoo? Your family can “adopt” this animal or bird and help with further education and preservation of the species, plus – you get a few special entrance days and perks, like a plaque with your name on it. What a great gift. And speaking of gifts – what could be more special than walking the zoo grounds as fluffy snow falls and a muffled silence prevails in this usually-bustling facility. Bundle up and see what treasures you discover on a wintery day.
- Outside time. With several short trails upon which to wander, the Alaska Zoo provides an excellent opportunity for parents and kids to take a vital “time out” during a busy day. The zoo’s winter hours are now in effecct, so the facility is open from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Have school kids in the house? Take a walk after the bell rings and before tackling homework. Preschoolers or toddlers getting antsy? It’s delightful to pack up the hot cocoa, snowsuits, and a sled and wave to the animals as you slide by. The point is to achieve a bit of fresh air, animal knowledge, and celebration of Alaska’s beautiful scenery.
Your best bet? Purchase an Alaska Zoo membership and use it for spontaneous visit, special event rates, and other unique opportunities at Alaska’s only zoo facility. Take time to become acquainted with the creatures that live there, and the people who dedicate their lives to caring for them.