Vic Van Ballenberghe is a rare breed. He is a wildlife biologist who
sees animals as individuals that make decisions, rather than as parts
of a population that act only on instincts and genetic pre-programming.
"Biologists are trained not to anthropomorphize," said Van
Ballenberghe, 58. "The truth is that most wildlife biologists usually
sit in front of a computer screen most of the day, and if they do get
into the field it's often from an airplane."
In his 23 years of researching moose all over Alaska, Van Ballenberghe has had the opportunity to meet a great many moose.
"There's just a different perspective when you're out there
nose-to-nose with them and they let you into their world," he said. "I
think the people who resist the notion that moose make decisions or
operate on anything other than instinct would probably change their
minds if they had the chance to observe them as I have."
Van Ballenberghe's story, "Death of a Warrior," explores the life
and death of a particular moose, Big Boy. It was Big Boy's unique
personality that drew Van Ballenberghe's interest.
Van Ballenberghe said he had to be careful not to make his moose into a man.
"I hope I didn't try to equate them to people. They're entirely different," he said.
But that doesn't mean that moose are all alike, he said.
"Over the years I've gotten to know a lot of them as individuals.
They're all amazing in that they all have their own stories. They have
Van Ballenberghe first began researching moose during his graduate
work at the University of Minnesota. After a stint on the faculty at
South Dakota State, he came to Alaska in 1974 to work for the
Department of Fish and Game.
Since then, he has studied moose and wolves near Glennallen, Fairbanks,
Anchorage, Cordova and Denali Park, where he met "Big Boy." He also
served a term on the Board of Game in the mid-1980s. Van Ballenberghe
retired on Jan. 1, 2000, but continues to do research on the moose in
Denali through an affiliate appointment at University of Alaska
Since his retirement, Van Ballenberghe has devoted more time to
photography and writing. He has written many articles for scientific
journals over the years, and has also written a number of popular
"I've always had an interest in trying to relate some of the
scientific, technical things to the general public," he said. "Science
writing is really a chore...Popular writing is a lot more fun."