ELY, Minn. - Hope the bear is missing, and biologist Lynn Rogers fears the worst.
Hope is the Ely-area bear born in front of an enormous Internet audience to Lily two winters ago. Rogers, biologist for the North American Bear Center near Ely, said this morning that Hope has been missing since Wednesday night, and circumstances lead him to believe the year-and-a-half-old female was shot and killed by a hunter.
"It's just too much of a coincidence that when this hunter set up his bait and Lily began visiting that at that moment, Hope disappeared," Rogers said.
Lily, Hope and Faith -- a cub born to Lily last winter -- had traveled together all year, Rogers said.
Hope wasn't wearing a radio collar that would identify her as a bear used in research, Rogers said. Biologists had put radio collars on the bear four times, and she had managed to remove it each time.
Rogers knows the hunter who put out the bait, and that hunter hasn't returned his e-mails, he said. He declined to name the hunter.
Rogers has asked the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to notify him of any young female bears registered by hunters in the area, but he doesn't expect to hear back from them until Monday.
The bear center has received several reports of bears being spotted over the past several days. Each one was checked out and turned out not to be Hope.
"There was so much that we were looking forward to learning from this family," Rogers said. "It's the first mixed-age litter that's ever been really studied. And just about everything that we saw turned out opposite from what most people would predict.