Hope the bear, an Internet sensation, may have been killed
The bear's birth was broadcast to a worldwide audience via a live "den cam," and her progress has been tracked ever since.
But Hope hasn't been seen since Sept. 14, according to Lynn Rogers, a senior biologist with the North American Bear Center and Wildlife Research Institute in Ely, Minn. The institute has posted updates on her disappearance.
Hope did not have a radio collar but often roamed with her mother, Lily, whose collar showed she visited a hunter's bait station on Sept. 15, 16 and 17.
Rogers told The Times on Monday that he was still awaiting word from the state's Department of Natural Resources about whether a hunter had registered the killing of a bear matching Hope's description.
A spokesman for the Department of Natural Resources said the agency had not confirmed Monday whether the popular bear had been shot.
“We wouldn’t be sure whether Hope is still alive,” said spokesman Scott Pengelly.
Rogers called the hunter who he suspects shot Hope. The man responded by email but did not disclose whether he had killed a bear. Rogers declined to release the hunter's name, saying he didn't want to make trouble for him.
So far, no hunter has come forward to claim responsibility.
The Department of Natural Resources has asked Minnesota hunters not to shoot radio-collared bears.
But five collared bears have been shot since 2005, Rogers said. And some hunters seem to have targeted Lily, creating the Facebook page "Lily: A bear with a bounty," which had 51 friends as of Monday.
On Thursday, the website administrator posted a note saying, "Who's making Hope jerky this weekend?" inciting a barrage of comments from black bear fans, including some of the more than 132,000 friends of Lily's Facebook page, and a few responses from hunters.
"I can understand how some of you don't 'get' hunting... but for those of us who are conscientious conservators of the outdoors, we know that it is necessary to maintain a healthy population. Without it, the species would overpopulate themselves, and disease and starvation would be close at hand," wrote Mary Jo Ralston. "The good earth can only support so many creatures. The MN DNR Does a good job of maintaining this healthy population through a lottery of licenses in specific areas. And some of us just plain enjoy game better than store bought food."
Opponents who are pushing state legislation to protect black bears have started their own Facebook page, where debate raged Monday about how to respond to Hope's apparent death and the hunter suspected of killing her.
"I honestly believe she was targeted," Jayne Long wrote. "Hunters (the unethical ones) knew she wasn't collared = fair game. I don't believe for one minute it was a 'mistake' or he/they didn't know who she was"
Researchers had repeatedly attempted to collar Hope, but she resisted, Rogers said. Four times they succeeded in getting a collar on the bear, he said, but she managed to get it off every time.
Rogers, who has studied bears for more than 44 years, said Hope and her family presented a unique opportunity.
“To really learn about them, you have to do just like Jane Goodall did with the chimpanzees — you have to live with them and gain their trust,” he said.
Researchers followed Lily's mother, June, for years and installed the "den cam" to monitor Hope's birth in part because there is very little documentation of bears' denning behavior, he said.
A team of “official den watchers” recorded activity in the den at all hours, including Lily's preparations, her 22 hours of labor, Hope's birth and the cub's first cry. More than 500 schools followed online, he said.
On Sunday, as news of Hope's apparent death spread, a sixth-grade teacher from Mendota Heights called Rogers. She was in tears, asking what she should tell her students.
Dana Coleman, a first-grade teacher at Andover Elementary School outside of Minneapolis, explained to her students Monday that Hope's death would be part of the cycle of life. The students had raised money for the bear center and led Coleman to start a Facebook page and to petition state lawmakers to name the black bear as Minnesota's state animal.
“Hope was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she told her students, explaining that hunters shoot animals for food and to “thin the herd.” She left it up to her students to decide whether a hunter should have shot Hope.
Minnesota's bear hunting season opened Sept. 1. About 9,200 hunters killed 2,699 bears last year, according to state figures.
Rogers, who helped write the state's bear-hunting regulations, said he still wants to work with hunters.
“We try to cooperate with hunters and not disturb their hunts, but we also look for some cooperation back," he said. "These bears are so important to science and to the region.”
-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston
Photo: Hope, a black bear who had been tracked since birth by Minnesota researchers and fans via a webcam placed in her den, may have been shot recently by a hunter. Credit: Rebecca Hodgin
Video: Hope can be seen in this "den cam" video with a cub clinging to her head. Credit: North American Bear Center and Wildlife Research Institute / YouTube