Alaskans and their Animals

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My photograph of Alvin Eli Amason’s “Oscar Scared Him With His Icon” at the Museum of the North, Fairbanks (all photographs below are mine)

When you ask New Yorkers to think of local wildlife, we conjure up the disgusting animals that thrive on the trash in our wonderful  pig-sty city of smells – nasty rats, roaches, bedbugs, pigeons, squirrels (rats with cuter tails) and the occasional rabid raccoon, escaped gigantic pet snake or sewer alligator.

Most New Yorkers would cheer on learning of the extinction of our icky fauna,  but Alaskans have an entirely different relationship with their wild animals – they seem to deeply love and respect their non-human beings.

 

I visited Alaska a few year ago and from the moment I arrived, I sensed the importance of animals to the Alaskans – they like to stuff and display the wildlife they kill.  The Ted Stevens Airport in Anchorage features several big dead animals whose ferocity has been preserved and captured forever in glass cabinets. And in fact, I think every one of the six hotels I stayed at (in Seward, Anchorage, Denali and Fairbanks) showcased taxidermied animals as part of the décor.

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A bear at the airport.

 

For sure, some Alaskans depend on their local wildlife for survival.  Even today, in the age of Costco and Amazon  (they do have them in Alaska), some Alaskans prefer or are forced to live on a “subsistence” diet, reliant on what they can kill and gather.  There is a lot of meat and fish in Alaska – salmon, halibut, whale (yes, some native Alaskans still hunt whale), moose, caribou, bear and more.

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Michael Nakoneczny’s painting in the Museum of the North

If you want to learn more about subsistence hunting and trapping, I highly recommend the series the Last Alaskans which features several different families and individuals living a subsistence existence.

From my visit, I learned that native Alaskans have a rather beautiful relationship with the animals they hunt.  They thank the animal for presenting itself to be eaten. They won’t kill an animal that is too large for their needs because they don’t believe in waste and every part of an animal is either eaten or used for something else – shelter, clothing,  jewelry, and even furniture.

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An antler chair at the Museum of the North, Fairbanks.

It is not just the subsistence hunters who love animals.  Even the Alaskans in the  “big” cities, esteem their animals.   In fact, on virtually every day of my vacation, stories about animals were featured on the front pages of the Anchorage and Fairbanks newspapers!  In NYC we get the “pizza rat”, but in Alaska, they report on a bear walking into a liquor store and a moose getting caught in a soccer net and they even print dog obituaries.

Alaska is a wondrous, stunning state with lovely people and an abundance of fascinating wildlife.  I feel very fortunate that I could go to somewhere so different than New York City and I must admit it made me sad that our indigenous animals suck so bad.

 

 

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