A Visit to the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage

We heard that there were polar bears in the zoo in Anchorage, and since we were not going to get the chance to head up into the arctic circle to see the wild ones we thought we’d take a look at The Alaska Zoo.

I’ve mentioned in my post on planning for this trip to Alaska that we’d previously dreamt of seeing polar bears in the wild, but eventually decided that while we could visit Alaska, a trip up to the artic was beyond our means at this time. While I didn’t expect much from a zoo, I still found watching many of the animals depressing. After seeing so many of the featured animals in the wild, I really believe I could see a difference from these captive beasts. We watched a black bear idly swinging his head backwards and forwards for as long as we cared to stay; either the bear was plain stupid and hence could only survive in the zoo, or captivity had taken away from this wild animal’s sense of purpose. From our observation of bears in the wild they always seem to be moving somewhere, to be grazing, sniffing, observing or playing, but not in the zoo. Of course its not just the zoo in Anchorage, we got the same impression from a zoo/museum in Montreal and perhaps my memory is playing tricks on me from a visit years ago to the London Zoo and the Auckland Zoo, perhaps zoo animals always look like they’re ready to overdose on sleeping tablets.

I wanted to write positively about our zoo experience, but I just don’t think it was a very nice place for the animals and that impacted on our time there. A zoo is never going to be great for most animals, they need too much space, but I have seen other enclosures before which made more of an effort to use natural boundaries – or at least to make the steel bars less obvious with clever landscape design. Not only did many of the jail style bars leave me despondent about the zoo, but they made it practically impossible to take any decent photographs. While I’m on a roll I’ll complain about the colour of the water in the polar bear tank, it was lime green and from the underwater glass view you could barely see a foot past the glass. I believe on the seal tank there was information stating the zoo didn’t use any chemicals, hence the green colour was the result of natural algae in the water. I’m all for not chlorinating the water the polar bears swim in, but surely there must be some other way of keeping the tank cleaner. Salt water? Pool cleaning robots? Fishes which eat algae, they exist right?

Unable to enjoy photographing most of the animals I busied myself by taking pictures of every animal sign in the zoo; the signs are good with photos and interesting information and facts. The trails were nice too, and the zoo is easily walk-able i.e. not too big.

While the polar bears and tigers were pretty much sleeping the whole time during our visit, the snow leopard was surprisingly active at times and certainly sparked up our time. It would leap around the rocks of its enclosure, jump against the fence and bounce back onto the rocks, it even tried to eat Renee! Well it jumped on the glass in front of her, but I think he was just being playful. See the video.

It would be fair to say we visited for the polar bear, were pleasantly surprised to find the zoo also has a tiger and a snow leopard, and we got the best experience from the snow leopard and a surprise howling from the gray wolves. Check out the video!

If you’re thinking of visiting I’d recommend calling first to see if they have any naturalist programs on, or to check when the polar bears (Or your favourite animal) will most likely be active – my guess is during feeding time, and hopefully the zoo staff will be able to tell you when this is.

If you want to see an animal that you won’t get the chance to see in the wild, or if you want to learn more about Alaska’s wildlife then I recommend you visit the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage. But don’t expect to come away with any National Geographic style photos.

Have you seen a polar bear before? What’s your favourite animal featured here?

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  1. Superb Photographs