Monday, May 23, 2005

Zoo Update - May 23

I got to give a special tour last Thursday night. About 200 people from the ACVB (Anchorage Convention & Visitor’s Bureau) came over to review the construction going on at the zoo. Yes, I really mean 200 people! We had 5 volunteers (myself, Chris, Carol, Carie, and Heather) stationed at different points throughout the zoo. The people came in waves, brought by big tour busses, so at least we didn’t have all 200 at once. They wondered around where ever they wanted to, and were able to talk to the volunteers about the construction going on.

These people were all involved in the tourist business, coming from lodges, B&B’s, cruise companies, all kinds of businesses, and were there to check out what we have to offer so they could refer us to the hordes once they start showing up. So, needless to say, we were all on our best behavior and really talked the zoo up for them. Gave them all kinds of information to pass on, in hopes of attracting more customers.

I have to admit I was not in a very good mood that night. I have some personal stuff going on right now that has me really depressed, added to which my old cat Floyd is getting worse, so I will have to say goodbye to him soon. Thankfully, Heather stood by me and helped me out with the crowds, so it went alright.

Sunday afternoon was my family’s 16th annual Zoo/Picnic Day! We all met at the zoo at 2:00, as usual. This year our crowd was rather smaller than usual: Stan & Grandma Dorothy were both in Minnesota, and Danny & Gareth had to stay home to take care of their Grandpa. Also, Laurel was doing her weekend-warrior thing with the Army, so she was only able to show up for the picnic, after the zoo thing was over. All in all, we only had about 19 people (normally, the number would be around 25). And ass usual, half my family was late, and as a result they ended up missing the first of my behind-the-scenes events: the polar bear enclosure. But, I told everybody to meet up at 2:00; it’s not my fault they can’t do that.

We met up with Liz, one of the zookeepers, who took us in to Ahpun’s den area and showed up her filtration system and all the equipment required to keep her environment just perfect. Ahpun’s pool is 14 feet deep and the creek that runs thru her enclosure is 4 feet deep. Add in the two waterfalls, and that’s a lot of water. About 55,000 gallons total, and all that water runs thru the filtration system every hour of the day, so the tanks to accommodate all that are quite large. Rather than use chlorine to treat the water, which is bad for the animal (not to mention the fact that it smells funny) they use an ozone system: it’s actually called an "ozonation system" which sounds to me like something out of Star Wars!

After visiting Ahpun for a while, Liz led everybody over to the infirmary where she introduced us all to Max, the orphaned fox kit. He is an absolute doll! Such a cute little thing. He was found recently out on the tarmac at the airport, hence his name. Everybody enjoyed hearing his story and asking questions. Liz even let us pet him, which really surprised me. Normally, they don’t do that; but since he is going to be one of our educational animals, I guess they want him to get used to being in a crowd and being touched.

Smitty, another one of our zookeepers, took over after Liz was done and led us all over to meet up with Steve & Al, the Siberian tigers. Or, as is the correct terminology, the Amur tigers. Technically speaking, they don’t come from Siberia at all – they come from an area nearby a river called Amur, near the Chinese/Russian border. Way back in the early 1900s people thought it sounded more exotic to call them Siberian tigers, so that’s what they got stuck with. Scientists are now trying to get the name put back to what it should have been all along, but changing hundreds of year’s worth of name-calling is easier said than done!

Anyway, Smitty led everybody to the back of the enclosure so we could get a good look at them. He is a talker, and loves nothing better than to talk about his cats – and my family is more than happy to ask questions, too. We ended up spending quite a bit of time back there, till I finally got everybody moving again. We headed on over to the snow leopards, with Smitty in toe, and spent an equal amount of time there, asking all kinds of questions and listening to Smitty some more.

After finishing up at the snow leopards, we eventually ambled back to the entrance of the zoo. We were all hungry by that time, so headed on to the picnic: this year it was held at Reed's girlfriend's house. She has a very nice place, and is kind enough to let all of us crowd in and take over. Those of you who know my family know that we can be a bit overwhelming at times. We mean well, but it's pretty much chaos when we're all together; everybody talking all at once.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Zoo Update - May 2

There's been a lot going on at the zoo this past month; I'll get you all caught up here, since I haven't been doing it as things happen.

I attended an awards banquette with several zoo personnel (Tex Edwards, Sammye & John Sewell, Shannon Jensen, Beth Foglestadt, Brian Moore, and volunteers Elizabeth Maciariello and Carol Morgan) on Wednesday, April 14. The luncheon was sponsored by BP and was to honor volunteers in and around Anchorage. The AAVA, or the Anchorage Association of Volunteer Administration, gave out 6 awards: three Outstanding Volunteer Program Awards recognizing agencies for their volunteer programs (Alaska Legal Services, Clare House, and Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis), a Community Service Award recognizing a Youth Volunteer (Stephen Arendain – 16 years old, 200 hours volunteering for KCI Head Start), a Community Service Award recognizing an Individual Volunteer (Sallye Werner – volunteered for CASA helping abused and neglected children), and a Community Service Award recognizing a Business or Corporation (Davis Wright Tremaine).

That Friday night was the second to the last of the girl scouts programs. I wasn't feeling very good that night, so only ended up doing half of it. It was a good program, focusing on Birds. I unfortunately missed hearing Kaleigh's presentation - she's our mentor student who worked all semester on Bird Anatomy, and that night was her formal presentation, with somebody from her high school there to grade her on it. She did very well, I hear, but we knew she would.

Saturday, April 16th, was National Kid’s Day in Anchorage, with several businesses around town offering special events for kids. The Alaska Zoo offered free admissions to kids under 12, and had all kinds of activities throughout the day. I was to have given a Naturalist Tour at 2:30, but nobody wanted one. So I ended up just helping out wherever necessary. I helped Shannon feed the otters (actually, I just stood there and watched while she fed them). I helped close up shop at the critter table, carrying the tub full of items back to the office. I helped Jim while he presented Tula, the Bactrian camel (again, I basically just stood there – but I would have helped out if it had been necessary). I even helped Liz when she got Trini, the silver fox, out to show people. The whole day was a great success, with over 1,800 people attending.

The last of the girl scouts programs was on Friday, the 22nd, but I had come down with a serious chest/head cold that weekend and had to call in sick. I also missed the Woman’s Show at the Sullivan Arena. The Alaska Zoo had a booth there, to pass out information on our volunteer program as well as all the other programs we have. I felt really bad about missing my commitment because I knew Shannon was having a hard time getting people to work the table. She ended up having to do the whole day all by herself! I wasn’t thrilled with the whole idea to begin with, but I had said I would help out and I usually try to do what I say I will.

By the following Tuesday, April 26, I was finally well again, and was able to attend the monthly volunteer meeting. We’re getting really good at the whole monthly meeting thing; it’s really a worthwhile two hours. Not only do we get to hear all the latest news and up-coming events, but we also get to work out problems and get caught up on all the latest gossip. I am, as you might know, in charge of typing up the minutes to be sent out to everybody, so I won’t go in depth here.

This past weekend was also busy for me. I gave a tour to the American Travel Writers club on Saturday, April 30. It was a small group, with just 6 people, but I have to say it was one of the worst tours I’ve ever given. The group was very hard to handle, wouldn’t listen to me so I had to repeat everything about 5 times, and one man was so slow it took 2 hours just to get to the elephant exhibit! I didn’t even get to do over half the tour, and they had to go back to the hotel. I know the zoo was really hoping to get a good write-up from them, but I don’t think it will be that good. I tried, but one can only do so much.

The next day was much better, although it was raining. I met up with one of the new volunteers, Heather Doncaster, to go over the Naturalist Tour information. It was very nice to have somebody with me, because I tend to learn things better when I teach it to somebody else. It has been a long time since I last went over all the plant information! I have forgotten a lot, so it really helped reviewing it all with her. She plans on giving the tours all summer, and will be able to do them on weekdays since she is a schoolteacher, with the summer off.

On April 21, Ginger (our female caribou) gave birth to a beautiful baby! We don’t know what the sex is just yet, since Ginger is a very protective mother, but I’ll let you know as soon as we figure it out. He/she is a very cute little one, sticking to mother like Velcro.

We received three alpacas on Thursday, April 28, two to be housed in the old llama enclosure and one headed to the petting zoo. They are really cute animals, let me assure you. Very different from the llama, which I understand we are still in the market for.

And, last but not least on the list of new arrivals, is a young red fox that was found near a runway at the airport. We are unsure of whether this fox will stay permanently at the zoo, but for now he is comfortably housed in the infirmary till a decision can be reached. He is a tiny little thing, but the zookeepers assure me he is not only quite healthy but is also probably 5 weeks old!

All of the new arrivals can be seen on our web site at as well as on the zoo photographers web site at

Summer is finally here: there are leaves and grass and everything! I am so happy to see the last of the snow, as are all the migratory birds at the zoo. Since all the birds we have are injured in some way (that’s the only reason we have them) and are not able to fly, we have to take the migratory ones inside the infirmary for winter, to keep them warm and healthy. After 6 months being cooped up inside, I am sure that they, too, are very happy to see green again.

Sister, our oldest river otter, has an injured foot (seems the wolverine objects to having river otters as a next door neighbor) and has been moved to the infirmary till she can heal properly. She is "a weenie", to quote her handler, and complains quite loudly to anybody who will stop to listen. She holds out her paw, leans up against the bars of her cage, and whimpers. If that doesn’t get the sympathy she’s after, she will actually start to cry (loudly) even! She is getting the best of care possible, however, despite what she thinks, and will no doubt be back with her two companions in no time.