ANCHORAGE, Alaska — It was a wild race, but in the end, the bear made a stunning comeback for victory.
After trailing much of the election, Ahpun (ah-POON’) the polar bear fended off a spirited campaign by Denali the gray wolf to be elected first “president” of the Alaska Zoo.
“It was paw to paw,” said zoo development director Eileen Floyd. “Denali more often than not was on top. It was a bit of a surprise that Ahpun pulled it out.”
The campaign was a fundraiser for the zoo in Anchorage. It began Sept. 5 with a press conference and photo op. Ballots were $1 and zoo patrons were encouraged to stuff the ballot boxes with dollars for their favorite animal.
As late as Monday, Denali held an eight-vote lead, according to totals updated daily on the zoo website. But Ahpun surged ahead on Election Day and was named the winner with a final tally of 2,129 to 1,822 votes.
Denali’s chances may have been hurt by a third candidate. The Anchorage Midtown Rotary Club sponsors Yertle, an alpaca, and made her a write-in candidate. Yertle took in 605 votes.
Ahpun, 14, has been at the zoo since she was 3 months old. She was found orphaned near Point Lay on the Chukchi Sea coast about 700 miles northwest of Anchorage.
She weighs about 700 pounds but isn’t the biggest bear in her own cage. She shares space with another polar bear, Louie, a male that’s about 1,200 pounds.
Denali, 6, and his siblings were brought to the zoo as 2-week-old pups from a den near McGrath about 275 miles southwest of Fairbanks. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game had planned predator control for the area, a program to boost moose numbers, and Denali may have been spared death by trapping by moving to the zoo.
Inauguration Day for Madam President Ahpun, Floyd said, will be Dec. 9 at the zoo’s “Christmas for the Animals” event, when patrons can bring treats for animals.
The election drew votes from outside the state and even outside the country, Floyd said
“It really got the zoo out there,” she said.
The finally tally was $4,556 taken in. The money raised with support the zoo’s operating budget.
Alaska Zoo: http://bit.ly/emkz4K