Northwest Trek’s Hoot ‘n’ Howl more fun than fright

Here’s a question naturalist April Stephens doesn’t answer every day: Based on the size and character of the animal skulls on her viewing table, which creature would be best equipped to fend off a zombie?

Too easy. The grizzly bear.

With Halloween less than a week away, fur-brained questions were encouraged Saturday night at Hoot ’n’ Howl, Northwest Trek’s annual whimsical mash-up of nature and things that go bump in the night.

Stephens picked up the skull of an elk and a wolf and flipped them over to reveal the teeth.

“We can guess what these animals ate by looking at the teeth in these skulls,” Stephens said to her costumed visitors at her learning station. “Which one do you think eats meat, an elk or a wolf?

She pointed to the wolf’s skull. “These teeth are like cutting tools, they’re sharp and triangular.”

Little heads nodded.

Hoot ’n’ Howl’s intersections with Halloween were Good ’n’ Plenty. You could go nose-to-nose with a tiny brown bat. Trick or treat under an inflatable spider. Or pretend to be scared when the nighttime tram ride concludes with the “discovery” of long-missing driver Walter, now a skeleton parked in the forest with his brethren.

“Everything at Northwest Trek is always about the animals, no matter what we do,” education curator Jessica Moore said. “We find creative ways to make our games, our crafts and activities all themed around animals.”

Moore said a record 2,052 people attended the two-night Hoot ’n’ Howl event Friday and Saturday, which has been held annually at the wildlife park for more than 20 years.

Inhabitants of the 725-acre park will horn in on the Halloween fun next Saturday during the Pumpkin Chomp & Stomp, when pumpkin enrichments are offered for the animals’ dining or smashing pleasure. Visitors who come in costume will receive $3 off general admission.

And for anyone doubting the zombie-hunting ability of a big mammal, may the words on this Northwest Trek tombstone persuade you:

“Here lies Walter Duddley. He found out too late grizzly bears aren’t cuddly.”

Drew Perine: 253-597-8654