Postcard: Animal attraction in Alaska

'Go closer, your lips aren't touching," says Steve Kroschel, his laughter echoing through the valley. With whiskers tickling my fingers, moaning that sounds like a distressed cow and breath threatening to knock the socks right out of my hiking boots, I try to fake it. I love animals but I don't usually do the kissing thing. And besides I know "Karen" only wants me for one thing.

As soon as she finishes one banana, Karen pushes me for another. Not in an aggressive way. More like I- know-you-have-bananas-and-I-want-another-one-please. And while Steve is egging me on to "just do it", I realise there's no escape. I lean forward and plant a kiss smack on the odd-shaped but surprisingly soft nose of a moose.

Karen is one of the many orphaned or rescued North American animals living with Steve at the Kroschel Wildlife Centre in the tiny village of Haines in south-east Alaska. Filmmaker, actor, conservationist and naturalist, Steve draws visitors to tour his eclectic home to "teach people about the earth through animals". "It's not a zoo - it's an experience," says Steve, his athleticism defying his years. Think Dr Doolittle with a touch of Indiana Jones.

Watching Steve with each of the 15 species of animals is like nothing I've ever seen before - an animal whisperer on a grand scale. He's a father, friend and feeder to each creature young and old. With a vocal range of realistic sound effects, he attracts the animals like they are on an invisible string.

A low guttural whine mixes with a high-pitched howl as a wolf appears from the densely forested enclosure to romp with Steve. Isis was brought to him as an injured pup and like all the animals at the centre, is unable to be released back into the wild. Her coat is glossy, her eyes sharp and her tail wags excitedly as she chases Steve over boulders and around trees.

It's the same pattern at each enclosure. Lennox the lynx stalks through the long grass and rolls over like a pussycat at Steve's feet. A young marten darts in and out of hollow logs before resting on his outstretched hand. When Kitty, an adult brown bear, hears Steve's voice she lumbers towards the cyclone fence surrounding her expanse of undulating lush forest. She came to him as an orphaned cub and he fed her oatmeal with a spoon. And even the elusive mink responds to his squeaks and pokes out of a tree stump long enough for me to snap a photo of its magnificent fur. There's nothing staged. It's total respect for a man who over years has created a unique refuge.

A wolverine named Banff is another long-term resident. As Steve cuddles the tricoloured furry bundle like a baby, it's hard to believe this is one of the most ferocious creatures on the planet. That is until I catch sight of teeth capable of ripping apart prey many times its size. I watch as they knock heads and snuggle into each other and for an awful moment I think Steve's going to put the word on me to kiss Banff.

Kissing a moose is one thing but a wolverine?

Tours of Kroschel Wildlife Centre at Mile 18 Mosquito Lake Rd, Haines, Alaska, are run by appointment between May and September. See kroschelfilms.com/home.

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