Ahpun and Lyutyik, perhaps the two most famous residents of the Alaska Zoo, are having a birthday party this Saturday. Cake? They’ll have cake, albeit an icy one. The birthday song? Check. Party hats? Sure.
An annual event for the polar bears and those who love them, the Alaska Zoo’s polar bear bash is taking a different track this year toward support of an ambitious, and much-needed endeavor to benefit these arctic bruins. Called the Polar Bear Project, this effort will expand the current bear habitat and ensure a longer, happier, and healthier life for Ahpun and Lyutyik, who just might have cubs some day. Their current home is too old, too small, and needs a modern upgrade.
Who are the guests of honor?
Ahpun is is 17 and came to the Zoo as an orphan cub in 1998 from the village of Point Lay, Alaska. As the female polar bear, Ahpun is smaller than Lyutyik, or “Louie” as he is affectionately known.
Louie 15, was born in St. Petersburg, Russia in 2000. He spent some time at Sea World in Australia, but arrived at the Alaska Zoo in 2006.
Polar bears are an arctic marine mammal, preferring ice as their platform for hunting seals, walrus, beluga whales, and other far-northern animals and birds. In the wild, polar bears need a lot of fat to survive, and as such, they are known as the most predacious of bears (black and brown are Alaska’s other bear species). A “food-free” season can last up to 4 months, so between April and July, bears must stock up, swimming from ice pack to ice pack in search of food. Fact: Polar bears rely upon a hunting strategy known as “still hunting,” whereby they will lie perfectly still and wait near a hole in the ice, sometimes for hours, until a seal pops its head up for air. That’s patience!
In captivity, polar bears can live up to 40 years, with males weighing in at 1,500 pounds, and females topping 600 pounds.
The Alaska Zoo’s Polar Bear Project- Phase One is coming along nicely, says Jill Myer, the zoo’s development director. Now fully enclosed, the habitat’s roof is next on the list, then concstruction will begin on the den area inside. But the the zoo needs you.
How can you help the Alaska Zoo’s polar bears?
1. Attend their party on Saturday, and learn more about polar bears, the zoo, and ice in the Arctic. Ahpun and Louie will get ice pops, special treats, and a decorated cake you simply must see to appreciate.
2. Run or walk in Saturday’s Fun Run and Cub Crawl. A fundraiser for the Polar Bear Project, kids and parents are welcome to join in this untimed race around the zoo grounds before the birthday bash. Tip: Jill Myer says everyone should have ice cleats for the slippery trails around the zoo property and along Elmore Road.
The fun starts at 10 a.m. on Saturday, January 16, 2016. Don’t miss it.
For more Alaska Zoo information, see our past posts HERE.