LOST HOPE: Bear researchers give up hope of reuniting Ely cub with mom Lily
Hope, the Internet-famous black bear cub, was still missing in the woods near Ely, Minn., on Wednesday, and researchers say they have given up hope of reuniting the cub and its mother.
Because Lily, the mother bear, has abandoned Hope twice and shows no signs of trying to find her cub, researchers Lynn Rogers and Sue Mansfield say they will keep trying to find the cub and even help it survive by providing it food, but they won't again bring it to its mother.
And Rogers said he won't try to capture the cub to raise it in captivity.
"Lily is a couple of miles away again and shows no signs of coming back. We don't know why, but she's not coming back. We're learning new things every day here," Rogers said, noting Lily also has stopped lactating. "Is there something wrong with Hope, or with Lily? Is Lily's behavior unusual? No one knows."
Rogers said if they do happen to find the cub, they may try to leave food in that area and hope the cub survives until a wealth of berries ripens later this summer.
"We don't know if we'll ever find (Hope) again. And we don't know if Hope can make it on its own without" nursing, Rogers said. "But we do know bears seem to figure out on their own what to eat, that they really don't need their mothers to teach them. So there is still hope for Hope to make it."
Lily and Hope became famous over the winter when a video camera in Lily's den recorded Hope's birth and first weeks with mother. More than 97,000 people worldwide became friends of Lily on Facebook, and thousands have followed the saga of the separated mother and cub over the past two weeks. Rogers and Mansfield are able to track the mother because it is one of a dozen or so of their research bears wearing GPS and radio-transmitting collars. The cub is too small to wear a collar.
After a weeklong separation last month of Lily and Hope, Rogers and Mansfield lured Hope down from a tree, put it in a pet kennel, and brought it to Lily.
When Lily left Hope this time, Rogers said he considered getting a state permit to capture the cub and send it to a wildlife rehabilitation center to re-release into the wild, or possibly to keep the cub as a resident of the North American Bear Center in Ely. Rogers helped found the bear center, which has large outdoor enclosures for three captive bears.
"But then it's not science any more," Rogers said, "and I think this bear still has something to teach us in the wild. We could benefit greatly if we find and keep that cub (for publicity). But then it's not science. We can't learn much from a bear in captivity."
He has intervened thus far to keep Hope alive "because Hope can teach us more alive than dead," Rogers said. "Some people seem to think it's OK to kill a bear, but not to help a bear."
Rogers said it's not clear why Lily seems to be overreacting to other bears in the area, especially June, Lily's mother. But he said that's part of the research effort to follow the same clan of bears in Eagle's Nest Township near Ely since 1996.
"She (Lily) seems to like Hope when they are together. But we don't know why she hasn't figured out the balance between going out and feeding and taking care of her cub," Rogers said.
Three-year-olds poor mothers
Dave Garshelis, bear project leader for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, said it's not uncommon for young mother bears, especially 3-year-olds, to lose their cubs. Most black bears in the wild have their first cubs at age 4 or 5, Rogers and Garshelis agreed, and in areas with poor nutrition it can take 10 years before a sow successfully raises a cub.
Lily is 3 and Hope was her first cub.
"What bear researchers have seen is that it's quite common for 3-year-old bears to lose their cubs in some way," Garshelis said. "They lose it or it dies or gets killed. We've seen it here (in Minnesota) where somehow they separate and can't find each other again. There seems to be a big difference in giving birth at age 3 and age 4."
Garshelis, who has often butted heads with Rogers over Rogers' research techniques, said the 3-year-old female bears that have cubs often have been fed or had access to supplemental foods such as agricultural crops.
"They mature (physically) early but don't have the maturity to take care of a cub," Garshelis said. "It's sort of the equivalent to a 14-year-old girl getting pregnant. They're able to give birth to a child, but it's daunting once you have the kid, all the things it takes to raise them. In human society, you have the help of parents. In bear society, it's the other way. You have the fear of other bears coming in and killing the cub."
Garshelis said he remembers a case in which a 3-year-old Minnesota bear visited a dump with its cub.
"She left the dump with the cub sitting there in a tree crying, and she never came back," he said.
A study comparing reproductive success found Minnesota bears typically have their first cubs at age 4 or 5 while Massachusetts bears had cubs at 3.
"But the survival rate of the (Massachusetts) cubs was atrociously low," Garshelis said. "Most of those bears ended up losing their first litter."
Rogers said that, while wildlife biologists have known for years that 3-year-old sows had frequently lost cubs at some point, no one had ever witnessed it so closely before. Rogers and research partner Mansfield are able to follow the study bears, apparently without any concern by the bears, because they have become familiarized with the researchers through constant interaction and handfuls of nuts.
"Sue was there to see the mother (Lily) leave the first time and there to see why she left the second time, when (Lily) was so terrified of June," Rogers said. "We can compare what we see here with behavior of other mothers with cubs, so even if we don't see (Hope) again, we've learned something from all this."