At the 200-acre Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, jaws drop in awe-even those of longtime Alaskans who've studied grizzlies and other animals up close. AWCC's mission is to provide refuge for orphaned, injured, and ill animals-those that can't survive in the wild. The center, which opened to the public in 1993, also educates visitors about Alaska's wildlife. Coyotes peer out from behind the brush while a bald eagle swoops in on the salmon remains left by a grizzly bear. Wood Bison plod through 65 acres of tidal flat terrain, as part of a program that will one day restore the species to the Alaskan wilderness. Animals that cannot be released into the wild are given a permanent home at the center. Come be a part of these exciting programs and watch these animals display their natural, “wild”, behavior.
The Center's Setting
Set on the shores of Turnagain Arm, surrounded by mountains and hanging glaciers, the center is the perfect setting to learn about Alaskan wildlife. The animals are located in different areas grouped around several road loops. Perhaps the best way to view the facility is to first drive around to get your bearings, then park by the gift shop and walk. Each habitat area has a sign explaining the history and habits of the particular animals.
Stars of the Show
Hugo steals the show. She's a young grizzly bear that was found when she was a cub by hunters near Kotzebue, in the northwest corner of the state. Orphaned and starving, she had almost 150 porcupine quills stuck in her paws and was unable to find food. The cub got a ride to Kotzebue on a snowmachine with the hunters, then a trip to Anchorage on an airplane. The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, formerly known as Big Game Alaska, cared for Hugo after she was brought to their facility. She was placed on antibiotics and fed a high-fat diet.
Now Hugo has matured, and while she will never be released into the wild, she struts around her 20-acre, fenced-in habitat like the queen she is. Viewers can see her pigeon-toed walk up close-she passes just feet from the fence. She might even climb up to the roof of a small cabin to snack on a piece of salmon she finds there. Seeing a bear eating salmon on the roof of a cabin is quite a sight.