By STEVE KARNOWSKI, Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A Minnesota black bear who became a worldwide star when her birth was broadcast over the Internet is presumed dead after a hunter came forward to report that he had shot the animal without knowing it was her, a researcher said Tuesday.
Researchers last saw the yearling bear named Hope on Sept. 14. Lynn Rogers, senior researcher at the North American Bear Center and its affiliated Wildlife Research Institute in Ely, said he was contacted Tuesday by a hunter who said he killed the bear when it came to his bait station alone on the evening Sept 16.
The hunter told Rogers he would not have deliberately shot Hope and didn't know she was the same bear. However, Rogers said the hunter also did not express remorse.
Rogers said he's confident the bear was Hope because every other female bear known to be in that area near Ely in northeastern Minnesota where Hope and her family roamed has been accounted for, including Hope's radio-collared mother, Lily, who at one point bedded down just 165 yards away from the bait site. Hope was not collared or otherwise marked or tagged.
Rogers declined to give the name of the hunter. He said he's discouraging verbal attacks on him and hunters in general because that won't help his center's research and education efforts. But he acknowledged that feelings have been running high since the center put out word a few days ago on Facebook that Hope was missing and likely dead.
"I've gotten calls today from several people who could hardly talk through their tears, but there's also a lot of anger. It's a highly emotional item for the Lily fans. We're just trying to figure out where we go from here. And we want to protect the hunter," Rogers said.
Lily and Hope became an Internet sensation two winters ago when the center installed a camera inside Lily's den and thousands of people watched live as she gave birth to Hope. Students at over 500 schools have been following Hope, Lily, and Lily's new cub, Faith, on the bear center's website and Facebook, Rogers said. Lily's Facebook page has about 134,000 fans.
"This is probably the most famous bear in the world," Rogers said of Hope. "... It lived for 602 days and during that time it changed a lot of lives. Hope changed a lot of lives. It drew people together."
The center's announcement on its "Lily the Black Bear" Facebook page Tuesday afternoon that the hunter had come forward generated hundreds of comments within hours. Many visitors wrote that they were devastated, but grateful for how Hope and Lily's story had touched their lives. Many posts also blasted the hunter, but a few defended him and echoed Rogers' call to leave him alone.
The researcher also said it turned out that the hunter was never a member of a Facebook page called "Lily: a bear with a bounty" and never wrote messages there. Rogers on Monday had expressed suspicion that the hunter was a poster there.
Rogers reiterated that he's not against all bear hunting, pointing out that he helped write Minnesota's bear hunting regulations. Those rules allow hunters to set out bait stations, a practice that many of Lily and Hope's fans have condemned as unsportsmanlike. Rogers defends baiting, however, saying it gives hunters a better chance at a clean, humane shot, and reduces the overall number of bears killed because fewer are wounded by bad shots only to die later in the woods, unfound and unrecorded.
He also noted that the hunter's actions were perfectly legal, though Rogers said he wishes people wouldn't shoot his research bears.
"It's just one more instance of us being in the middle of a groundbreaking data set and having it cut short by a hunter killing a critical bear," Rogers lamented.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)