The Alaska Zoo can often be thought of as mainly a summer activity, but be assured that the talented staff keeps things going year-round. The holiday celebrations happen in October with the Zoo Boo Halloween event, and of course there is a Christmas celebration for the animals. This winter came with a new addition to the Zoo animal family as Cranbeary, the polar, started to adjust to her new living situation and acclimate to her new life with the male Lyutyik for the time she is in Alaska. On Saturday January 19th from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. there will be the annual Polar Bear Birthday Party.
Polar bears have been a star attraction at the Alaska Zoo for decades, and some of the bears have even reached celebrity status. In July of 1994 a tourist jumped over safety rails at the enclosure to try and get a close photograph of Binky and was mauled in the process. Images of the bear with the tourist’s red shoe hanging from his mouth raced around the globe, and soon Binky merchandise was a sought-after item. Ahpun the polar bear came to the Zoo a couple of years later as a cub and spent her time as a cub frolicking with a brown bear named Oreo. Executive Director Pat Lampi and zookeeper Smitty fondly remember the young life of the bears, and the time was documented in a video titled “Playtime with Ahpun and Oreo” and inspired the children’s book “Two Bears There”, written and illustrated by Dianne Barske. The 2018 Polar Bear Birthday Party was also a celebration of life for Ahpun who sadly passed away shortly before the event.
This event is a celebration of the time of the year during which wild polar bear cubs are born. One of the most iconic Alaskan animals, the polar bear is a fascinating, playful creature that is found as far south as St. Lawrence Island and is occasionally found in the Kuskokwim Delta and St. Matthew Island. In the summer the most common area for the bears is the pack ice areas in the Arctic Ocean and Chukchi Sea.
At the party there is always an honorary birthday cake for the animals, with fish and ice in a cake shape, generously provided with partnership from Copper River Seafoods. The cake will be unveiled in the habitat at 11am. Along with treat for the bears, humans can also get their paws on s’mores, polar bear critter items for exploration, and a station for kids to warm up while spending time outside. The coffee shop will be open for adults to get their hands on some hot beverages, and the Discovery Center and Gift Shop will all be open for this wintery event that celebrates not only the wild polar bear, but also the unique history of the species in regards to the Alaska Zoo.
If you can’t make it out for the birthday party the Alaska Zoo has other special events that run all season, with one of the more popular being the Zoo Lights events. With the darkness of winter still being present for a few more months you can spend evenings with the animals and experience custom light displays that are themed for holidays and exhibits. Many of these displays have been animated, moving along with music and moving lights. The trails are lit with peaceful canopies and arches of light that visitors can walk under while viewing favorites like Knobby the camel or George the talking magpie. The amenities like the gift shop and coffee shop are also open for purchases and warming up during these times.
The Alaska Zoo operates year-round, and if you can handle the cold, bundle up and come experience the animals in a different light. The nighttime events are held Thursday through Sunday evenings from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. until the end of January. From February 1st through March 3rd the time is moved from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
For more information visit www.alaskazoo.org or call 907-346-2133