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Researcher confirms Hope, famed Internet bear, is dead

Hope, the 20-month-old female bear studied by Ely bear researchers became famous when a den camera recorded her birth and first weeks in the den during the winter of 2010. Now her fans fear she may have been killed by a hunter. (Photo by J. Runion)

DULUTH - The fears of Hope the bear fans were confirmed Tuesday.

The bear whose birth and life near Ely were covered on the Web and followed by thousands worldwide was shot by a hunter on Sept. 16, according to a post on the Facebook page for Lily, Hope's mother.

According to the post, the hunter who killed a bear believed to be Hope contacted Wildlife Research Institute biologists Tuesday.

"She came into his bait site alone and the hunter had no clue it was Hope," the post by biologists Lynn Rogers and Sue Mansfield said. "The hunter is known to us and has cooperated with us in the past. He would never shoot a collared bear and would not have deliberately shot Hope."

Rogers said the hunter doesn't know that the bear was Hope.

"We know it's Hope," he told the News Tribune, based on the location, the timeline of when Hope was last seen and her likely location and movements, inferred from the data from the radio collar on Lily. The bears had been bedding down just 165 yards from the hunter's bait, Rogers said.

Hearing from the hunter makes it easier to say that Hope is gone, Rogers said.

"What we are thinking about is the loss of data," Rogers said. "It's just another instance of where we were in the midst of a groundbreaking story and have it aborted by a hunter shooting a critical bear."

Rogers studies bears through his nonprofit Wildlife Research Institute based near Ely. It is affiliated with the North American Bear Center in Ely.

Lily and Hope became famous when a den camera recorded Hope's birth and first weeks in the den during the winter of 2010. Thousands around the world followed the bears through the live den-cam video posted on the Internet. Lily's second cub, Faith, was born last winter.

Lily's Facebook page has more than 132,000 fans. Hope's disappearance after the state's bear-hunting season opened generated hundreds of postings, many from mourners and opponents of hunting or, at least, baiting.

The outpouring continued after Hope's death was confirmed.

"I am devastated," Sarah Earl wrote on the site. "I was so looking forward to watching the three bears cuddled up in their den together this winter. And to see Hope grow up and to follow her with her own cubs through the years. She was such a great character and it is a tragic loss to all of us who loved her and to bear research."

Some writers thanked the hunter for coming forward to confirm Hope's death, while others attacked bear hunting and the hunter.

"The hunter says that he did not know at that time the bear he had killed was Hope," Stephen-Jill NcNeill wrote. "But now he confesses. REALLY!!! How stupid do you think we really are??"

Rogers had earlier said that he knew the hunter whose bait station Lily visited. That hunter, who was the person who called Tuesday, had earlier declined to say whether he had shot a bear that might have been Hope.

He may have changed his mind, Rogers said, after learning that Hope had not been seen Sept. 17 -- the day after he shot a sow.

"There has been some confusion due to the fact we posted on Sept. 17th that the family was fine," Tuesday's post said. "We, in fact, did not see Hope or Faith on the 17th. Sue found Lily alone ... We assumed Hope and Faith were together nearby."

The hunter also may have decided to call after seeing that Rogers and Mansfield would keep his name confidential.

"Attacks on him or hunters in general will only serve to undermine our potential for future research and education," the post read.

Rogers didn't ask the hunter for details on Hope's death. Knowing the hunter and that Hope was at a bait station, Rogers suspects Hope died quickly.