Alaskan Animals

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EagleThere are a wonderful variety of wild animals that live in Alaska. Depending on where you visit, you can find a vast array of mammals, birds or marine life. Many of the wild animals that live in Alaska can be found in the state's many wildlife refuges. As home to the white polar bear, the brown or grizzly bear and the black bear, most of the Alaskan territory is considered bear country, or, as a camper or hiker may say, "beware" country. Bears are probably the most frequently seen wild animals that live in Alaska. The Kodiak bear calls the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge his home, which was established in 1941 in order to protect some of the Alaska native animals. Alaska bears are not only found in the wild. They are often discovered in big cities such as Juneau, Anchorage and Fairbanks. Since they are often found near garbage dumpsters, it behooves you to exercise caution. Be particularly weary of mothers with cubs. In 1928, 23 American Bison were transplanted to Alaska. They replaced the wild herd that had died out about 500 years ago. There are several hundred American Bison in Alaska. The Musk Ox was also reintroduced in order to restore a species of Alaska native animals that hunters eliminated in 1865. Although a number the Alaskanimals are native to the area, others are introduced species. The moose (Alces alces) is the world's largest member of the deer family. The Alaska race (Alces alces gigas) is the largest of all the moose. Moose are generally associated with northern forests in North America, Europe, and Russia. In Europe they are called "elk." In Alaska, they occur in suitable habitat from the Stikine River in the Panhandle to the Colville River on the Arctic Slope. They are most abundant in recently burned areas that contain willow and birch shrubs, on timberline plateaus, and along the major rivers of Southcentral and Interior Alaska.

Grizzly in Denali National ParkAlthough grizzlies are around -- one was shot not quite 20 years ago just a few blocks from downtown Anchorage -- they're more elusive than moose. Denali National Park and the MacNeil River State Sanctuary are two of the places where they're most easily seen by tourists. Access to the MacNeil River sanctuary, where they can be observed fishing for salmon, is restricted to holders of a limited number of permits that are issued in a drawing held each March. It's easier to get into Denali but visitors are less likely to get a closeup view of bears. The photo above, of a bear grazing on a slope several hundred yards away, was taken at Denali.

Black bears are around too. Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologists estimated in the spring of 2007 that about 100,000 of them make Alaska their home. Visitors are most likely to see them at a town dump or, in a fish camp or town in Bush Alaska, raiding a fish drying rack. Hunters in Prince William Sound use boats to look for them foraging along the beaches. People taking a Kenai Fjords day cruise may see one or more on a mountain slope. Black bears' habitat is forested areas but they may be encountered anywhere from alpine areas to sea level.

Caribou in Denali National ParkHaines, in Southeast Alaska, and Homer, on the Kenai Peninsula, have large populations of eagles in the winter. Haines has a bald eagle festival each November.

The state has hundreds of thousands of caribou that roam in several herds, the most controversial of which is the herd that roams the Arctic Slope range that is thought to hold huge undeveloped oil reserves. Another herd, the Western Arctic herd on the Seward Peninsula in Southwest Alaska, has about 500,000 caribou.

Federal biologists estimate there are 350 beluga whales in Cook Inlet. Passengers on tour boats in the Kenaj Fiords National Park may see pods of killer whales or humpback whales, as well as seals, sea otters, cormorants, puffins, eagles and other birds. Several companies offering Kenai Fjords park tours can be found at the small boat harbor in Seward.

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