The vast tundra and soaring slopes of Alaska host an endless array of wildlife, from bears to moose, from reindeer to fox. As you might witness for yourself throughout our Alaska’s Natural Beauty adventure, they are all very much at home here and as much a part of the landscape as the mountains peaks that pierce the sky. But some of these majestic creatures need help. Perhaps they’ve been misplaced by development or rescued from being illegally kept as pets. That’s where the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) steps in. Since 1993, it has been a protective refuge for animals that cannot survive in the wild.
Our small group has the privilege of visiting this nonprofit shelter for animals-in-need. Its mission is to preserve the region’s magnificent wildlife through public education, all while providing a safe haven and quality care for the injured and the orphaned.
Some animals are reared here as babies and prepared to be released into the wild. One dramatic story illustrates the importance of the conservation’s work. In 1941, the wood bison, North America’s largest land mammal, was declared extinct after over-hunting. But in 1957, a small herd was discovered. In 2003, the Conservation Center took in about a dozen of these remarkable animals from the Yukon and embarked on a carefully executed breeding and re-introduction plan. Today, the wood bison thrives in its natural habitat. A group of elk, too, was successfully re-released on Akun Island by the AWCC.
During your visit to AWCC, you’re likely to see reindeer, porcupine, bears, lynx, moose and more. Mind you, this is not a zoo; rather, the residents here roam fairly freely in large enclosures that are designed to resemble the natural environment. You’ll navigate your way through this spectacular menagerie on boardwalks and trails. The magnificent facility, set amidst mountains and glaciers, stretches out across 200 acres along the shores of Turnagain Arm.
The Center’s ultimate goal is to teach its residents to fend for themselves so they can roam free in the wild. That bald eagle you might see swooping down for salmon just might be in training. The coyote peering out from behind a bush may be putting its newly acquired survival skills to work. But not all animals will graduate into the natural world. Some simply never learn the skills or have physical limitations, leaving them to take up permanent residence here.
Hugo, for instance, is considered the Queen of the Conservancy. The young grizzly was discovered alone, hungry and injured with 150 porcupine quills in her paws. Upon arrival, she was nurtured back to health, but her injuries will keep her here. And that seems fine with her; she has 20 acres to call her own. At mealtime, a fresh piece of salmon might be left on the roof of a small cabin within her enclosure. Should you pass by while she’s dining, you’re sure to gain a deep respect for the size and might of a grizzly.
We hope you’ll experience this very special refuge for Alaska’s wildlife for yourself. Join us on our new Alaska’s Natural Beauty.