Polar bear, wolf vie to be Alaska Zoo 'president'

Denali, a male gray wolf, walks between trees at the Alaska Zoo on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2012, in Anchorage, Alaska. The 6-year-old wolf is one of two candidates for zoo "president" in a fundraiser that matches the timing of the U.S. presidential race. He's running against Ahpun, a polar bear, and ballots are $1. (AP Photo/Dan Joling)

ANCHORAGE — You thought Barack and Mitt were fierce presidential candidates? Try Ahpun the polar bear and Denali the wolf.

The Alaska Zoo, in what it acknowledges is shameless promotion and fundraising ploy, is conducting an election between Ahpun (ah-POON’) and Denali. The winner will claim zoo presidency, according to development director Eileen Floyd, who introduced the candidates Wednesday.

The election is about who will best represent the Alaska Zoo for the next four years, she said.

“I assure you this race is not about the color of their fur, their gender, or even a species issue,” Floyd said.

The early favorite would appear to be Ahpun, given her iconic status as monarch of the Arctic and the millions in free publicity from Coca-Cola commercials.

Ahpun 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’s likely to receive the sympathy vote — polar bears in 2008 were added to the threatened species list because of climate warming and shrinking Arctic Ocean sea ice. Climate models considered by federal agencies indicate the species may disappear from U.S. waters this century.

Denali, on the other hand, is fighting stereotypes promoted by the likes of Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs.

His kind is more abundant in Alaska but apparently not beloved by members of the Alaska Board of Game, which sets hunting seasons in the state. Hundreds of wolves, plus black and grizzly bears, continue to be systematically killed under authorization of the board and policies aimed at increasing moose and caribou populations.

But Denali is not without support. He has his own Super Pack — several siblings brought to the zoo with him when they were orphaned near McGrath in interior Alaska about 275 miles southwest of Fairbanks.

Supporters will be able to buy the election. Ballots are $1. Zoo officials are hoping people will stuff ballot boxes attached to the animals’ pens or online. Floyd said money from outside interests is welcome.

“We invite you to vote as much and as often as you like,” Floyd said.

The zoo election will follow the same timeline as the national race. Ballots for Ahpun and Denali can be cast until 8 p.m. Nov. 6.

Unlike the presidential race, vote totals will be updated daily on the zoo website.

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