Grizzly Bear Cub Playing

A visit to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center (AWCC) provided a bear highlight that still makes me feel all giddy inside whenever I think about it.  At the time of our visit, a two year old orphaned Kodiak brown bear called Taquka was in residence.  It was an overcast day in Alaska, and we watched Taquka standing around with the other observers.  People came and went, but there was something about this young bear that kept us standing there, long after everyone else had gone.

Grizzly bear cub playing with antlers

Taquka - Kodiak bear cub,  Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Taquka - Kodiak bear cub,  Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

In my experience, if you watch any animal long enough, you are bound to witness some interesting behaviors, and today we were truly rewarded.

Without warning, Taquka suddenly came striding toward us and plunged into the dam less than a meter in front of us.  Clearly delighting in the water, he tossed his head and belted the water with his huge paw. Suddenly, he went under the water, coming back up with a massive antler which he proceeded to make his new toy.  From what I understand, no-one at AWCC knew there were antlers at the bottom of the dam until Taquka found them on this day.

Grizzly bear playing

Biting and pawing the antler, Taquka couldn’t get enough of it. Finally, he put it on top of his head as a caribou would wear it. Whether this was a pure coincidence or he had seen the caribou with these on their heads and decided to copy, we’ll never know.  But the pure playful energy radiating from this absolutely adorable Kodiak bear was infectious.

Taquka was brimming with curiosity, taking a keen interest in everything that was going on. There was something extra special about this intelligent and extremely pretty brown boy.

bear cub in water

We were fortunate enough to meet with Jordan Schaul, who at the time, was Director of Conservation and Science at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.  Jordan kindly took the time to explain Taquka’s history and future - that he would be leaving Alaska bound for Europe soon.

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Taquka’s mother had been shot and killed on Kodiak Island, leaving her cub Taquka orphaned. His chances of surviving as a baby in the wild without the protection or education from his mother were slim.  Taquka was taken to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and cared for.  During his eighteen month residence, Taquka was very quick and willing to learn with a relaxed personality.

Taquka, grizzly bear

Taquka, grizzly bear

Literally a month or so after we watched Taquka playing with antlers in the dam at AWCC, he was transported to Orsa Bear Park in Sweden to a custom built facility for Kodiak bears.

Designed  with their natural habitat in mind, the park was deemed the only one suitable to take a Kodiak bear.

Taquka has since settled in to Orsa Bear Park and is expected to remain there permanently.

Taquka at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in May 2012 trying to put the antlers on his head.

Taquka at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center in May 2012 trying to put the antlers on his head.

The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center been in existence for over 20 years and provides a home or temporary shelter for injured, sick or orphaned wildlife that need help.

Musk Ox at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, warning off another musk ox.

Musk Ox at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, warning off another musk ox.

The center shelters bears, musk ox, moose, bison, lynx, owls, eagles, elk, porcupine, caribou, and deer among other animals. It also offers internships and education programs.  I wouldn’t hesitate to visit the center again.  Even though Taquka is no longer at the center, it receives animals on a regular basis and you never know what interesting action awaits you until you get there.

Musk Ox, Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Musk Ox, Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a great place to stop at on an Alaskan Road Trip, located on the Seward Highway (past Girdwood and before the Portage Glacier Road turnoff) - about an hour’s drive from Anchorage

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Website for Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center:  http://www.alaskawildlife.org/

Location: Mile 79, Seward Highway, Girdwood, Alaska (past Girdwood and before Portage Glacier turnoff)

Note: These pictures were taken in late May.  Weather was overcast with a touch of drizzle, and there were not many people about.  Roads were good to drive, and I would visit Alaska during late May again. 

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