KNOXVILLE - With each changing season, we experienced 2016 through the eyes of the cute, cuddly—and sometimes mischievous creatures who call East Tennessee home.
At Zoo Knoxville, it was a year of excitement, with the birth of a red wolf pup in April and a third baby gorilla joining the family in September.
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The public helped name the red wolf pup “Waya,” by submitting suggestions through a contest.
The baby gorilla was named “Andi” after Andie Ray, a member of the Knoxville community who died last year. The name means “brave, strong and courageous.”
"This is not only a huge deal for Knoxville only having the third one ever born here. This is a huge deal for the gorilla population as a whole,” said Tina Rolen, director of communications.
While they celebrated new life, the Zoo Knoxville team made sure to not forget about their older friends as well.
In July, they held an elephant birthday party.
“Tonka had his 38 birthday in March, Edie just had her 32 birthday in June and Jana will have her 36 birthday in August,” said Becca Wyatt, lead elephant keeper.
The trio enjoyed giant popsicles and a herd of excited fans.
From the Zoo to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 2016 gave us an up-close look at wildlife.
"It's nice to have a job that has a little bit of adventure and a lot of science involved,” said Biologist Ryan Williamson with GSMNP. “That's how we learn things about the world we live in and animals I work with every day."
Park biologists took us along for the ride as they studied black bear hibernation.
"Being able to look inside a cavity in a tree and see the bear curled up its really cool,” said UT graduate student Jessica Giacomini.
For those who struggled during the winter, there was a safe place to rest and regain strength. This year, the Appalachian Bear Rescue celebrated their 20th year of helping injured bears return to the wild.
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"We're trying to make sure that we capture the stories because they're the history of ABR,” said Dana Dodd.
A rough midwinter brought misbehaving bears into the springtime, and the GSMNP dealt with a bear-human conflict.
"This was not just a casual nip. This was an aggressive bite in the middle of the night of a hiker in a tent who had properly stored his food,” explained park spokeswoman Dana Soehn.
An attack meant tough measures by the park service to protect humans. Later finding out, that the wrong bear was euthanized.
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“These are very difficult decisions that have to be made and we err of course on the side of visitor safety,” said Soehn.
Hungry bears continued their search food in the spring, sometimes wandering too close for comfort.
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Finally, the fresh berries of summer and a plentiful acorn crop in the fall, fed those appetites.
An animal hidden by the night, came to light as biologists attempted to save bat populations from a deadly fungus.
"You know some of these species are already endangered and we have the potential to lose them,” said Bill Stiver, a GSMNP biologist. “You lose them, you never get them back."
Overall, 2016 was a year of learning about the different wildlife who share our home.
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