Mile 79, Seward Highway: Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

I’ve been learning all about the AWCC animals over the past few days. Head intern Kristen Peterson gave me an impressive tour of the complex on my first day. She’s a rising senior planning to be a veterinarian, and this is her third summer working here. I’m really looking forward to spending time with her and the other college interns. One of Stanford’s greatest gifts has been making friends who have become my family on the West Coast, so I hope I’ll be able to connect with at least a few interns here as passionate about wildlife conservation as me. I’ve also met some of the animals, including four adorable orphaned moose calves and an enormous furry porcupine!

The next morning was powerfully sunny and crystal clear, and I woke up thinking I was in New Zealand. I talked extensively with AWCC Director of Education Kelly Miller about the specifics of my project, and she gave me current Adopt-an-Animal materials to browse through as well as a printed guide to the center’s wildlife. Inside its front cover reads: The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center believes that the survival of our wildlife should be a matter of grave concern to all of us. Wild creatures and the wild places they inhabit are not only an abiding source of wonder and inspiration, but are an integral part of our future well-being.

I learned that Kelly runs the center with her husband, Executive Director Mike Miller. He originally established the for-profit Big Game Alaska in 1993, which didn’t receive its non-profit status and new name until 2000. Interestingly to me, AWCC maintains almost all of its animals with permits from both the federal Department of Fish & Wildlife and state Department of Fish & Game. Every year, AWCC fills out forms that specify the number of animals per species the center can support. In terms of homo sapiens, people from all walks of life visit the center— busloads of Asian tourists from cruise ships, curious young couples, families with small inquisitive children, aspiring photographers with long black telephoto lenses. It’s heartening for me to witness such wonder and respect for AWCC’s orphaned and injured Alaskan animals.

I’m excited to implement my project, although it’s certainly going to require plenty of detail-oriented work. I’m eager to portray the life stories of AWCC animals like Chimo, a moose whose hoof deformity requires them to be trimmed regularly; Spaz, a porcupine whose broken front teeth prevent him from living in the wild; Hugo, an orphaned grizzly bear found dehydrated and malnourished with hundreds of porcupine quills embedded in her paws; Jewelie, an orphaned Sitka black-tailed deer discovered wandering on a beach after her mother was killed by a grizzly bear; and Hooty and Snappy, two great-horned owls wounded by gunshots.

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