Sunday, June 18, 1995
DON'T FEED THE TOURISTS
time for Part Two of my two-part series on the exciting, dramatic
and -- above all -- tax-deductible Alaskan Adventure trip
I took earlier this spring. As you recall, in Part One, which
appeared last week, I recounted the events of my first day
in Alaska, during which virtually nothing happened. This leads
-- I woke up in a nervous mood, because I knew this was the
day that I would boldly leave the hotel altogether and --
armed with nothing stronger than Certs brand breath mints
-- face a polar bear. This can be extremely dangerous. Polar
bears are fiercely aggressive meat-eating hunters that weigh
upwards of 1,000 pounds and can run down a horse; the only
real hope I had for surviving this encounter was the fact
that this particular polar bear lives in the Anchorage Zoo.
It frankly struck me as pretty strange that Anchorage even
bothers to have a zoo, seeing as how, as I noted in Part One
of this series, there are already plenty of large and sometimes
hostile animals wandering around the city loose. You could
easily have a situation where you'd be unable to go to the
zoo to see the moose or bears because there was a non-zoo,
freelance moose or bear standing on your patio.
Fortunately I had no trouble getting to the zoo, and I soon
found myself face-to-face with the zoo's star polar bear,
Binky, who, in terms of size, is basically a Winnebago motor
home with teeth. Binky became a major news story in Alaska
last year when, on separate occasions a few weeks apart, he
attempted to eat two people. The victims, both of whom survived,
had climbed over two fences to get close to Binky's cage.
One of them was an Australian tourist, who said she climbed
the fences because she wanted to take a close-up photograph;
she wound up with her leg in Binky's mouth. I saw a videotape
of the attack, taken by another zoo visitor, showing several
men beating on Binky with sticks through the cage bars, trying
to make him let the woman go. You can tell that the woman
is thinking: Next time, I am definitely going to Disney World.
If there is one fundamental unifying principle of human psychology,
it is that everyone, everywhere, regardless of age, gender,
religion or ethnic origin, hates tourists. So when Binky chewed
on one, he instantly became a major celebrity, like Kato Kaelin,
but with a higher IQ. Alaskans fell in love with a freeze-frame
video picture, taken by a local TV news cameraman, showing
Binky wandering around his cage, looking a little wistful
. . . with the Australian woman's sneaker in his mouth. Entrepreneurs
put this image on T-shirts, which still sell by the thousands,
along with all kinds of other Binky merchandise (one woman
showed me a pin she was wearing -- a little white polar bear
with a little silver sneaker in its mouth).
Binky was sleeping when I arrived at his cage, but after a
few minutes he got up and started engaging in routine bear
behavior such as yawning, pacing around, diving in his pool,
phoning his agent, etc. I could not help but notice that Binky's
cage still is not particularly well protected; it would be
pretty easy for a tourist to hop over the two low fences,
get to the cage and become Purina Bear Chow. It's almost as
though the zoo wants this to happen (NEXT TOURIST FEEDING:
I myself did not get anywhere near Binky, because I wanted
to stay in peak, non-mauled physical condition for the strenuous
activities scheduled for the final day of my Alaskan Adventure,
also known as:
DAY THREE -- The big event of Day Three was a helicopter tour
of some glaciers, arranged by -- speaking of getting chomped
by bears -- Anchorage Daily News columnist Craig Medred, who,
as you recall from Part One of this series, is an outdoorsperson
so rugged that he makes Davy Crockett look like Martha Stewart.
After receiving a safety briefing from our pilot, Lambert
DeGavere, we took off from the Anchorage airport and headed
for the mountains. I am not a religious person, but as I viewed
the spectacular panorama of breathtaking scenery below, I
could not help but ask myself: What the heck kind of pilot
is named "Lambert"?
An excellent pilot, as it turned out. Lambert gave us a terrific
tour, swooping along mountain peaks and valleys, giving us
all kinds of fascinating information about glaciers, which
are -- forgive me if I get technical for a moment -- giant
wads of ice caused by geology. At one point we landed on a
rocky outcrop next to a particularly scenic glacier, and there,
many miles from the nearest convenience store, we had lunch.
As we sat there, contemplating one of the most overwhelmingly
beautiful views I've ever seen, Craig said something -- call
it an insight; call it a revelation -- that struck a responsive
chord deep in my soul.
"I had this flight billed to The Anchorage Daily News,
" he said, "but they don't know it yet."
That's the kind of bold, "can-do" spirit that makes
Alaska what it is today, and if you're the kind of person
who enjoys nature, I urge you to visit "The Land of the
Midnight Sun" so that you can experience, firsthand,
the mountains, the glaciers, the rivers and -- above all --
the zoo. Binky's getting hungry.
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