Anyone who has visited the Alaska State Fair in Palmer knows how big the produce grows over our endless summer days. The midnight sun allows local growers to max out their short growing season, leading to the largest produce in the world. But what happens to all of these giant veggies after the pomp and circumstance of the Fair is over?
It would be a shame to let them go to waste. At least this was the thinking of Zoo Enrichment Coordinator Angelica Evans. She contacted the Fair Crops officials and asked if the zoo’s animals would be able to receive some of the produce. She drove to Palmer at the appointed date and time to retrieve a 500 pound squash, 10 giant cabbages and many other super-sized veggie treats.
Angelica decided that the zoo’s muskoxen would be the recipients of one of the largest produce prizes. The 500 pound squash was reserved for Little Rock, our bull muskox, and a large pumpkin for Maya and Sarah Elizabeth. Muskoxen are a species known to be a true relic of the Ice Ages. They fascinate visitors from around the world, many of whom have never seen a muskox in person. What could be more interesting than see this iconic species and learning about their natural history? Well, seeing them destroy giant produce of course!
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.
After 30 minutes or so, Little Rock was successful in cracking the squash open. Now the fun began as he rubbed his face and head over every chunk of the behemoth. He came away with a messy squash face that will probably remain in part until the next rainfall.
In the meantime, Maya the muskox had decided that the pumpkin was hers and hers alone. She chased her daughter Sarah Elizabeth away from it if she came within 10 feet of the precious pumpkin. She would knock into it and then swing around to defend it from her one year old daughter. Perhaps Sarah Elizabeth was learning a thing or two about how to behave as an adult. The smell of the pumpkin seemed just as alluring to Maya as the squash was to Little Rock. Like Little Rock, Maya came away from her pumpkin encounter with bits of it smeared all over her face.
As any zookeeper knows all too well, the fun of watching the animals with their enrichment is always followed by the fun of cleaning up the mess. Angelica had her fun the next day when she returned to clean up the remnants of the epic battles between beasts and vegetables. But the fun did not stop there! Angelica then decided that some of the larger pieces of squash still had life left in them to share, so the Little Rock-smelling squash pieces were distributed to the brown bears and wolves for further enrichment and enjoyment.