Ruth Moody will be giving a free vocal workshop this Sunday at the AB Hall in Skagway. This...
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Alaska and Yukon Headlines
Iditarod mushers on Sunday raced away from thousands of cheering fans into the remote Alaska wilderness on their long journey to Nome, amid concerns that poor trail conditions may prove perilous for mushers and their dogs.March 2, 2014
Jeff King thinks of the Iditarod as a 10-day stretch, in which his dog team must go 100 miles each day. When his dogs run out gas, he pulls over and fills up the tank by feeding and resting them.March 2, 2014
The 42nd Iditarod Trail Sled Dog race gets underway in Willow, Alaska Sunday.
On Saturday, mushers lined out their dog teams in downtown Anchorage for the Ceremonial Start of the race.
This year’s race includes six former champions and at least 20 mushers vying for a top-10 finish.
New Zealander Curt Perano, otherwise known as the Kiwi Musher, took off first from the ceremonial start line in downtown Anchorage. He was followed by 68 others. Some are running the race for the experience. Others, like Aliy Zirkle are long-time veterans looking for a win. The Two Rivers musher spent most of Saturday morning shaking hands and posing for photos with fans like Florida tourist Syvilla Morse. “I have run before once or twice…OK, 13 times,” she joked when Morse asked Zirkle if she’d run the race before.
“Have you won?” was the next question. “Actually no, I haven’t quite won yet, but thank you for asking,” Zirkle responded.
Zirkle is running the team that led husband, Allen Moore to a second consecutive Yukon Quest Championship this year. She’s finished the last two Iditarods in second place behind a Seavey. In 2012, she was beat by Dallas Seavey. Last year, his father Mitch managed to stay ahead for the win.
He says he’s running one of his best teams for this his 21st Iditarod.
“Sometimes we start with dogs that we think are sound,” Seavey said. “But when you get out there a couple days, maybe that old injury flares up again. Any of those guys I’m just leaving home.”
This year’s field is deep. There are six returning champions and countless top-10 finishers among the 69 teams running. Ray Reddington, Junior has run the race 12 times and finished in the top-10 three times. He is well aware of what he’s facing.
“Every year, we say it’s the best field there is, but I think it’d be hard to compare any years to this one,” he said.
The race follows the northern route and he says there is one thing in particular he’s looking forward to.
“We’ll have some good food at Galena I hope. You know, we always do!” Reddington said.
But Galena is more than 500 miles down the trail. Before teams get there, they’ll face a guaranteed rough trail over the Alaska Range. There are reports of snow free rocks in the notorious Dalzell Gorge and open water near Rohn. Glare ice and hard-packed trail will also challenge sled dogs and mushers alike.
From fur auctions and carnival rides to races with reindeer and outhouses, the 79th annual Fur Rendezvous festival is classic Anchorage at its best.March 1, 2014
Polar Bears in the US were listed as threatened in May of 2008. In past years, the Alaska Zoo has provided a temporary home for nine orphaned polar bear cubs, in cooperation with the US Fish and Wildlife Service. It isn’t easy to raise a polar bear cub. Alaska Zoo director Pat Lampi ought to know.
”We’ ve had two within the last less than four years. So we feel it is important to be ready.”
Lampi says the Zoo needs more room for cubs.
“You can’t introduce a young cub with an adult for two to three years. And so we don’t have the facility, currently, to keep any more adults.”
Right now, The Zoo’s permanent polar bear exhibit has room enough for two adult residents. Ahpun came to the zoo as an orphan from the North Slope, Lyutik was born in captivity in Russia, then sent to an Australian zoo before ending up in Alaska.
It is hoped that the two bears will become more than roommates, and plans are to expand the polar bear enclosure to provide denning space for Ahpun, should she become pregnant
“If our female got pregnant, you’d need have to have some separation from her and the male. If we have to separate our bears for some reason, currently they’re either.. one can be inside and one can be outside. So this would give us the opportunity if we have to sep Ahpun and Looie, that we could move one of them over to this new area. They would have a separate denning area and some outdoor area and some small pools to acces. “
The Alaska Zoo’s ambitious expansion plan will be completed in two phases. Phase 1 will be a transition facility for orphan bear cubs, and Phase 2 will triple the size of the current permanent polar bear exhibit, including maternity dens.
Last year, the Fish and Wildlife Service gave the Zoo a five year authorization to stand by as a rescue facility for North Slope polar bears. The Alaska Zoo is the only facility in the US to have such an agreement with the federal agency.
And with all eyes on a defrosting Arctic and the area’s new potential for development, there is bound to be more human – bear encounters. Lampi says polar bears are being forced into areas where there are more humans, and that means there will be more orphan cubs looking for a home. )
“Alaska is the only state that has polar bears native to its lands. If there should be a premiere exhibit on this species, it should be in Alaska. “
Eileen Floyd is the Zoo’s major gifts director. Floyd says the expansion plan has been under consideration for five years. The cost of the combined phases is about 8 million dollars, but the Zoo has most of the 1 point 4 million (dollars) needed to begin work on the orphan cub transition facility. Fundraising has begun on the 6 million (dollars) for Phase Two.
Lampi and Floyd say many zoos are not taking polar bear cubs now, because of recent rules set by the government of Manitoba
”Those standards are being adopted by zoos in the United States. That’s the new bar for everybody to reach. ” ” So if you are building a polar bear exhibit, you’re going to build to those standards. “
The Zoo’s expansion will be up to the Manitoba standards, with natural substrate in the the outdoor yard area where bears can dig to their heart’s content. Polar bears can live up to 40 years in captivity, and can breed well into their twenties. Breeding polar bears in captivity could help researchers understand the reasons for reproductive failures in declining wild populations
”It’s for the benefit of the wild population, and the captive population,” Lampi says.
The cub Kalli will someday provide wild population DNA for future breeding programs. Lampi says a polar bear raised in captivity would most likely spend it’s life in captivity. He says the future of the polar bear can’t be predicted during this time of change. But science can help:
”Keep and eye on the science, and what’s going on with the pack sea ice up there. They’re an amazing species, and it would be devastating to let them die off. “
The Alaska Zoo collaborates with the Cincinnati and Memphis Zoos on reproductive studies on polar bears. Other studies could show how much energy it costs a polar bear to swim, and one would even set protocols on how to wash polar bears in the event of an Arctic oil spill. Specially designed washing tables are already in place at Prudhoe Bay and at the Alaska Zoo.
Spectator Richard Roberts, a native of Minnesota, had to see the race with his own eyes: “It’s the best thing ever.”March 1, 2014