Valentines and a Golden Anniversary: Vintage photos of zoo visitors over the decades

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This August 2019 will officially mark 50 years since the Alaska Zoo was incorporated as a nonprofit. The zoo was started back in 1969 as a place to care for orphaned and injured animals, including the zoo’s first resident - an Asian elephant named Annabelle. While the zoo is no longer in the elephant business, we have stayed true to our mission and roots as an organization that cares for wildlife in need. We are proud of where we came from and what we have become. But who do we owe our success to?

Yes, we have had many dedicated staff members and volunteers over the years and we still do today. We have a group of core staff members who have each worked at the zoo 20 years and more. We have amazing volunteers who help to run our events and programs. We couldn’t function without them! We have staff members who brave all of the elements Alaska’s seasons can throw at them to care for zoo animals all year long in an outdoor setting which is not always kind.

Our donors have helped sustain us over the decades as well. They come in all forms - foundations, community organizations, businesses, individual donors, those who have included the zoo in their estates and wills, animal adoptive parents, scout groups and more. Their support both financially and logistically has been instrumental in creating the zoo you see today.

But there is another group of people who are the zoo’s bread and butter - our visitors! Over the past five decades, we have had a steady stream of local enthusiasts who have raised multiple generations of their families while making the zoo a part of their memories and lives. We have thousands of visitors who travel to Alaska each year and include the zoo in their vacation plans. Visitors pay for the zoo’s operations. The revenue they generate goes straight into our General Fund, the money used to maintain facilities, care for animals, pay bills and pay staff. These revenue sources include admission fees, gift shop purchases, coffee shop purchases, annual memberships, education programs, camps, event tickets and concessions.

It doesn’t take a holiday like Valentines Day to make us realize how lucky we are! It is simply amazing how much of an impact visitors make with their dollars and desire to come to a truly Alaskan place - a zoo set in a forest with natural trails and cold climate species. Thank you for all of our staff, volunteers, donors and visitors. You are the village that supports our mission!

Join us for our Valentines for the Animals event this Saturday, February 16th to continue sharing the love with our animals! Check out this recent article about our event. Kids will be FREE ENTRY for the event and Zoo Lights on February 16th.

We hope you enjoy the gallery of visitor images below by photographer Bob Pate. Bob documented the zoo’s first three decades and we are so grateful to have his record of the zoo’s history!

Is Cupid at work? Polar bears Cranbeary and Lyutyik now seen sharing habitat on Alaska Zoo’s live bear web cam

Lyutyik and Cranbeary during one of the scenes from their successful introduction held at 9am on January 31st, 2019.

Lyutyik and Cranbeary during one of the scenes from their successful introduction held at 9am on January 31st, 2019.

The Alaska Zoo’s newest resident Cranbeary, a 16-year-old female polar bear, met her potential mate Lyutyik for the first time on Thursday, Jan. 31. While Lyutyik owes the Denver and Alaska Zoo staffs — not Cupid — for their matchmaking skills, initial signs point to the two polar bears being a great pair.

Watch the new friends for signs of a new romance through the polar bear web cam online. Visitors also have special opportunities to see them on days such as our $5 February Fridays and our upcoming Valentines for the Animals & Kids Free Day event on Saturday, February 16th.

“We are glad to see the bears are becoming companions and know the community is going to be excited to see Cranbeary and Lyutyik playing together,” said Pat Lampi, executive director of the Alaska Zoo.

Photos and videos of Cranbeary and Lyutyik can be found on the Alaska Zoo’s Facebook page.

The Alaska Zoo is a nonprofit organization that has provided a home for orphaned, injured and captive-born animals for 50 years. Open year-round, the zoo is dedicated to promoting conservation of Arctic and sub-Arctic species through education, research and community enrichment.

Polar Bear Party Planning: The Making of an Ice Fish and Ice Cake

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This Saturday is a special day at the Alaska Zoo. Each year, we throw an honorary birthday event for the zoo’s polar bears. While it may not be their actual birthdays, many wild polar bears give birth to tiny cubs in their dens right at this time of year. It is a cause for celebration!

And no party is complete without treats and cake. We are lucky to have a new partnership for this year’s event, which will be held Saturday, January 19th at the Alaska Zoo from 11am to 1pm. Copper River Seafoods has joined forces with the zoo to make this the best Polar Bear Birthday event ever!


In looking at pictures from past birthday party events, the staff at Copper River Seafoods noticed the snow cakes and colored ice blocks. Zookeepers, zoo educators and volunteers have always pooled efforts to prepare and unveil these creations at the party events each year. The bears always enjoy climbing on them, tearing them apart and finding the hidden treats inside.

These photos of the bears enjoying their treats inspired Copper River Seafoods staff to get involved in the 2019 party event. We sent zoo photographer John Gomes on assignment to document the artistic process and logistics behind a team at Copper River Seafoods who decided to make two items for this year’s party - an ice fish and an ice cake.


When John arrived at Copper River Seafoods, he was asked to don the proper sanitary gear before going inside - a lab coat, hair net and even a mustache guard. He was escorted inside the processing area to document how staff were constructing these masterpieces.

There are about six people working on the ice blocks which will make up the fish and cake. In total, 48 blocks of ice will be frozen with most to be used making the ice fish. The remaining blocks will be used to build the cake. Tasty fish treats are frozen inside of each block including salmon, halibut, herring, sardines and produce provided by zoo staff. A colorful cake is a must, so layers of colored water are frozen over days. The first layer is frozen, followed by a layer of fish and produce, then another layer of water. This process is repeated until each block is complete.


Of the 48 blocks being frozen, the ice fish will take 35 of the blocks. It will be huge, roughly 14 feet long by 5 feet tall. The cake will be smaller and made up of multiple colors, roughly 4 feet wide by 4 feet tall. And for the cake topper? A halibut tail adorning the top!

Meanwhile, back at the Alaska Zoo, we are in the process of getting Cranbeary and Lyutyik used to each other since Cranbeary’s arrival in late 2018. They are not living together in the same habitat yet, but we are working toward that goal slowly. Cranbeary was recently given access to the main outdoor yard on Tuesday, January 15th and she will alternate time outdoors with Lyutyik until the staff feel a face-to-face introduction is safe. While both bears will hopefully get to check out this event enrichment, it likely won’t be at the same time. It is up to zoo staff and the bears as to how they are doing.

We hope to have a crowd for this fun event, starting at 11am this Saturday, January 19th. The zoo opens at 10am, so we suggest arriving before 10:30am to give yourself time to go to the polar bear exhibit. The fun will commence at 11am!


We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to the hard-working staff at Copper River Seafoods. Their inspiration to build these enrichment treats for the bears will truly make this the best Polar Bear Birthday Party ever!

To learn more about Copper River Seafoods, visit their website here.

To explore the natural history of wild polar bears, visit the Polar Bears International website.

To view Polar Bear Birthday Party event information, visit our event page.

Party with Polar Bears at the Polar Bear Birthday Party on January 19th!


We hope you will join us for our annual Polar Bear Birthday Party celebration from 11am to 1pm on Saturday, January 19th.

This year we are very excited to partner with Copper River Seafoods who will be building a wonderful ice cake for Lyutyik and Cranbeary, as well as creating a large fish sculpture to be placed in the habitat. The ‘cake’ will be filled with frozen fish, fruits and veggies - all exciting and delectable treats that polar bears love!

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For our party guests (hopefully you!), we will have coloring in the greenhouse and s’mores at the polar bear habitat for all. We hope you will brave the cold to come out and celebrate this very special occasion with the polar bears!

Each year we celebrate the honorary birthday of our polar bears as this is the time of year when all polar bear cubs are born in the comfort of their dens.

We would also like to invite you make a Polar Bear Birthday resolution. While celebrating this iconic species of the Arctic, take a moment to evaluate your day-to-day activities. How will you do something for polar bear and sea ice conservation this year? How will you help polar bears in the wild? Will you lessen your carbon footprint by turning down the heat a few degrees? Will you make more of an effort to reduce your use of plastics and especially one time use plastics? The polar bears need our help and every action you take, no matter how small, will help give them a better chance in the wild.

Thank you and we hope you will join us on January 19th!


Giant Produce Meets Ice Age Relics

Giant Produce Meets Ice Age Relics

It was their lucky day. Upon receiving the squash, Little Rock proceeded to spend about 20 minutes rubbing his face, nose, horns and forehead against it with the occasional lick for taste. He seemed fascinated by the smell more than anything. Every once in a while, he would back up and swing his head in typical muskox fashion leading to a swift charge and head butt against the 500 pound opponent. With each hit, the squash would rock and threaten to split.