ANCHORAGE — A man stood in the bucket of a green front-loader truck at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center on Wednesday afternoon. He gripped the leg of a moose, holding it over three bears who paced below.
“The deceased is ready to go into the pen,” he announced.
Scores of children watched, many with cellphone cameras held high, as the frozen piece of roadkill plummeted into bear territory right before their eyes. Some gasped. Some pushed to get a better look. A few hid. The feeding marked the beginning of the first Moose Celebration for the 4th, 5th and 6th graders from Girdwood Elementary School.
Biologists from Alaska and all over the country funneled into Portage for a day that aimed to introduce kids to wildlife careers. Many of the adults came from the North American Moose Conference and Workshop that was going on right down the road in Girdwood.
Mary Ann Benoit, a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service, was one of them. She drove up from Seward for the conference and Moose Celebration, signing on as a subject for the “Interview a Biologist” activity.
Isabel Lukes and Myla Batchelder, two 11-year-olds in 5th grade, asked Benoit questions like how she spends most of her days, what skills she uses and what sorts of training she needs. They scribbled down answers on a clipboard that they shared.
Lukes wrote: “Take care of animal habitat. Science biology degree. Take some classes as doctors then go into specifics.”
Batchelder filled in: “She likes seeing wildlife and being out in the field.”
Benoit described those as “magic moments.”
By the end of the interview, Lukes said she always wanted to be a doctor “but also a wildlife biologist sounds really fun.”
On the other side of the conservation center, students learned how to track an animal using a wildlife collar. The nonprofit takes in injured and orphaned animals such as two bull moose, five bears, a heard of caribou, elk, musk ox, wood bison and a porcupine named Snickers.
But which one wore the radio collar?
Kim King Jones, a state wildlife biologist in Palmer, told students how she uses tracking to study the habitats, movements and life spans of moose and caribou.
“I just wanted to inspire kids,” Jones said later.
She held up a space-age-looking antenna that beeped in a steady rhythm. The beep grew louder when she pointed it in the direction of the collar. The students took off, huddling around Jones as they walked around the center, guessing to which animal the beeps would lead.
The moose? The caribou? Definitely the caribou, they suggested.
And eventually they found it, a deer named Solo wearing a pink canvas collar.