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VIDEO: Little wolf pups are big draw at Alaska Zoo

Sean Doogan,Tara Young

Five young wolf pups, abandoned by their pack during the massive Funny River fire, are fast becoming stars at their temporary home at the Alaska Zoo in Anchorage.

Four times a day, the pups are taken to a special enclosure built alongside the zoo's walking path for feedings. On Wednesday alone, more than 150 people crowded the area to see the pups eat, waddle around the enclosure and then take a nap.

Few things grab people's attention more than baby animals, and the Funny River pups are no exception. Their story -- a rescue by the fire crew that discovered their den -- has spread across the world. The wolves will eventually be sent to the Minnesota Zoo near Minneapolis, but for now they're being cared for at the Alaska Zoo until they are large and strong enough to make the trip.

Brad Mondeel brought his four young children to the zoo on Wednesday just to see the baby wolves. Mondeel said in addition to being cute and cuddly, he wanted the wolf pups to help teach his children a valuable lesson.

"I brought my kids so they can learn compassion and empathy," Mondeel said.

A pair of tourists from Australia had their own reasons for visiting the zoo on Wednesday. Friends Anne Grub and Janet Moore had just spent several days in Denali National Park, looking unsuccessfully for elusive wildlife. Moore said the only picture she had gotten of a wild animal during her Alaska trip was a fuzzy shot of a squirrel. She wanted more.

"I had the television on while I was watching the news, and I saw the program about them, and we thought it would be fun to come have a look when we got to Anchorage," Moore said.

The pups were recently given new names that will follow them to the Minnesota Zoo. The wildland firefighters who found the den in late May suggested naming the pups after the crew members' home villages: Gannett, Hooper, Huslia and Stebbins. The fifth pup will be called X-Ray -- the name of the fire crew that found them.

Their four public feeding times -- 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. -- not only draw in zoo visitors, they attract the zoo's staff as well.

"This is kind of what you live for," Alaska Zoo Executive Director Pat Lampi said. "There's a lot of hard work at zoos, long hours and a lot of not-so-fun things, and this is what everyone enjoys: taking care of orphans, seeing them thrive and becoming great ambassadors for their species."

Lampi said this is the first time in the 28 years he has worked at the Alaska Zoo that orphaned wolves have been brought in. The zoo's current wolf pack -- consisting of six brothers and sisters -- was removed from its den eight years ago as part of the state's predator control program.

Lampi said the pups will likely stay at the Alaska Zoo for another month or so before heading south to their new home.

Contact reporter Sean Doogan at sean@alaskadispatch.com. Contact videographer Tara Young at tara@alaskadispatch.com.