Better Animal Encounters at the Alaska Raptor Center

Great Grey Owl

Great Grey Owl

It is entirely possible that we’re just suckers for clever branding. After all, we can’t say for certain whether there’s any real difference between the places we visit that bill themselves as “animal hospitals” or “rescue centers” and ordinary zoos. But that difference in stated mission – for rescuing animals on the one hand, and mostly just displaying them on the other – has come to matter to us.

Bald Eagle

I think it’s all the time we’ve spent out in the wild these past four years. We’ve come to so appreciate spying animals in their natural habitats that seeing them in cages now just makes us sad. And because we typically try to avoid being sad, we rarely visit zoos or aquariums any more.

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon

Places like the Alaska Raptor Center in Sitka, however, give off a completely different vibe: one of hope.

Tootsie the Northern Shaw-wet Owl

Tootsie, the Northern Shaw-wet Owl receptionist

Each year Alaska’s foremost bald eagle hospital provides medical treatment to upwards of 200 birds. Their goal is to rehabilitate and release each of these patients back into the wild.

A board listing the Center's patients by name and injury

A board listing the Center’s patients by name and injury

Toward that end they make every effort to minimize the interaction between the birds slated for release and humans, including shielding them from visitors.

Unfortunately, not all injured animals fully recover. Tootsie, the Northern Shaw-wet Owl who greeted us at reception, for example, came to the Raptor Center with a broken humerus. The Center pinned Tootsie’s wing, but it never healed well enough for her to survive in the wild.

With no place else to go, Tootsie will stay at the Center as a Raptor in Residency; luring visitors and donations that not only help pay for her room and board, but also for the medical treatment of hundreds of other injured birds.

And we have to admit that seeing her at work, along with a dozen or so other rescued raptors, made us the very opposite of sad.

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6 Comments on “Better Animal Encounters at the Alaska Raptor Center”

  1. digger666 January 3, 2014 at 9:36 am #

    Reblogged this on digger666.


  2. Jet Eliot January 3, 2014 at 10:12 am #

    Tootsie makes a great receptionist….


  3. The Earth Beneath My Feet January 8, 2014 at 11:21 am #

    Gorgeous pics – which is one nice thing about being up close and personal to animals in rescue centres.


  4. Miranda February 3, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

    I love this post! (Although I may be a little biased, as I’m a wildife vet.) I remember trying to fit in an externship with the Raptor Center during my senior yr of vet school- I’m jealous that you & Shannon were able to visit! 🙂
    The place where I work is technically called a “Wildlife Museum,” which sounds suspiciously like ‘Zoo’… still, our goal is to treat & release 100% of the animals that come through our doors! Occasionally, there are a few like Tootsie, who just won’t make it out in the wild, and then I have to decide whether to euthanize or have them live a full life as an ambassador at the museum.
    Bottom line: Regardless of how ‘hospitals’ or ‘rescue centers’ brand themselves, I think your happy vs sad instinct is the perfect way to make the call on whether it’s an exploitative situation. 🙂


    • Brian February 4, 2014 at 8:35 am #

      Well we’re a little bit jealous ourselves. In another life we’d have chosen to be wildlife vets too. 🙂



  1. Surprising Sitka | Everywhere Once - January 10, 2014

    […] into this tiny, history-rich town is plenty to satisfy sightseers, including the Alaska Raptor Center, a rehabilitation facility for injured birds of prey, and the delicate, green-domed St. Michael’s […]


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