Monday, September 26, 2011

The Loss of Hope?

Hope (the smaller bear on the right) is missing and believed to be dead.

In early 2010, Dr. Lynn Rogers of the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minnesota placed a webcam in the winter den of a wild black bear named Lily, a bear that had learned to trust him and who Lynn walked with as part of his ongoing research. That January, as thousands of people watched live over the internet, a cub was born and, along with her, an internet sensation. So many people gained such a radically new perspective of black bears from this event that the cub was named Hope. After tens of thousands of people followed the winter lives of mother and cub, the webcam was re-installed this year and captured the arrival of two more cubs, one of whom tragically died early in the season.

Now that it's September and the Minnesota hunting season is in full swing, Hope has suddenly disappeared and all evidence points to her death at the hands of a hunter who intentionally targeted, baited, and killed her just to spite Lynn and the legions of fans who have followed the lives of these bears.

When hunting season begins, Lynn attaches brightly colored ribbons onto the radio collars of his bears so that they stand out and can be identified as research animals, which most ethical hunters will not shoot. Unfortunately, Hope kept removing her collar and would not wear it. She disappeared on September 14th. Lily and her surviving cub, Faith, visited the hunter's bait pile where she was last seen on September 15th, 16th, and 17th and have not returned to that area since.

Lynn has recently stated that he knows the hunter who left the bait and knows that he would not shoot a research bear, but doubt is now starting to form. This same hunter left posts on a Lily Facebook page last week boasting of "Hope jerky" and "Hope cooked in a crockpot". Lynn now reluctantly wonders if the killing of Hope was deliberate and intentional. He is now waiting to hear from the DNR if a bear matching the cub's description has been registered.

Meanwhile, the reaction from those who followed the birth and growth of this cub is one of devastation. Hundreds of posts of mourning and grief have been added to Lily's Facebook page and Lynn has said that schoolteachers who were using the webcam broadcasts as an educational tool have called him in tears wondering how they were going to break the news to their students. Lynn himself is distraught and feels that with so much to learn from this family, this has been a major blow to his research.

While the hunting of radio-collared bears is perfectly legal in Minnesota, with Hope being no exception, it's the apparent deliberate aspect of this incident that makes it most infuriating. It takes a truly sick mind to intentionally set out to shatter something that has meant so much to so many just to make a name for himself - be that name good or bad - but the opposition faced by bear researchers, keepers, and advocates can be an overwhelming one and the list of travesties is ever-growing. While some are keeping their fingers crossed for a happy ending, every passing day makes a tragic one even more certain.

Update - September 27th:

It's now confirmed that Hope is dead. She was killed September 16th by a hunter at a bait pile. It's been clarified that this was not the same man who posted comments on Facebook apparently bragging about her death and that the shooting was accidental. Even so, this remains a deep loss and a difficult time for all of those who have followed these bears since the cub's birth.


  1. Hmmmm...the NABC says that the hunter shot the yearling for the meat quality, and did not know it was hope. But some also argues that since the hunter knows Dr. Rogers well, he must've known that be was baiting in Lily's area.

    My finger remain crossed regarding this debate; though I'm sick and tired of seeing ignorant people condamning Dr. Rogers with nonsensical reasons like media-dramatization or anthropomorphizing the bears. Seriously, Doc have been doing research for decades, he is not a fool.

    I think the media is partially responsible for this, because they always mention just the "extraordinary" parts like feeding the bears or, one that I saw in a ridiculously ignorant report, "the ability to summon bears to his side at will" :facepalm: -- thus leaving a false impression to the readers as if he were some sort of superpower psychic. (which the pathetic know-it-all snobs would wrongfully criticize) (just look at this: They fails to realize that Dr. Rogers is a resonable man and, in fact, much more aware than they though they were.

    I just hope that this loss is not in vain, but an event that would be the turning point for the whole "bear conundrum". But it seems that the effect is being greatly inhibited by ignorant and misinformed haters and incompetent media portrayal.

  2. You're absolutely right about the media portrayal and the misinformed haters keeping things from moving in a positive direction. That's been the case for far too long and it's past time for a change. I can only hope we start moving in that direction before more tragedies like this occur.

    Dr. Rogers is certainly no fool; he wouldn't have been as successful as he's been for so long if he were. But, after Timothy Treadwell, the media has developed more of a tendency to exploit apparent "sensationalism" in these bear stories, maybe in the hope that another Treadwell will come along so they can say "I told you so" again.

    As for the situation with Hope, one thing keeps nagging at me: the fact that someone posted those Facebook comments about cooking and eating her at such a convenient time. It could just be a heckler who coincidentally chose that time to say those things, but it raises questions for me.

  3. *typo* -- "more aware than they think they themselves are"

    Looking at the "bear meat" part in the update once again, I can't help but think of the hunter who offered Gordon Buchanan the bear burger in "The Bear Family And Me" documentary (I think he was called Dave Brotten). Of course, this is nothing but a far-fetching speculation, but still I can't help but make connections between these two..

  4. I had been thinking of that moment from the film as well. I don't know if there's a connection between the two but the timing of those comments does make me wonder.

  5. I'm not quite sure if it was "Broughton" or "Brotten", though whatever it is, I guess he can't be the only hunter who eats bear meat and knows Dr. Rogers, right?

    And yeah, I totally agree with you about Treadwell, it's easier for people to hate someone for picking their noses than to love him for writing a symphony. It's a shame that not only the most remarkable aspect of Treadwell's work is overlooked, but also that other great researchers are no longer being taken seriously because people loves to pounce a dead person.

    BTW about hunting, I agree with you about it may cause stress between the spiecies, but as a matter of fact a land's carrying capacity is limited, and inevitably some form of population control must be carried out in areas where people have protruded and disturbed the natural population dynamics. The bear-human conflict will eventually rise when the capacity is exceeded to a point, not even divisionary feed could solve the problem as it simply reliefs the carrying capacity limit but not stopping the population growth.

    What is you stance on this?

  6. Dave B has never hunted in Lynn's research area and he respects Lynn's research. The hunter came from further afield. Here's hoping no more bear are shot. Tx (Someone in the know.)

  7. Anonymous, thanks for clarifying that!

    Daniel, I agree that some form of regulated population control has to be put into effect in situations like that. I just think it's unfortunate that it has to be done when we build a suburb in the middle of prime bear habitat and then people freak out when the "big, scary animals" start poking around in the backyard. I do feel that the dated belief that bears have to be made afraid to reduce possibility of attacks needs to be re-thought, but as long as hunters are ethical and are not killing cubs, or mothers with cubs, and are skilled enough to drop a bear instead of leaving a wounded animal running loose - which has caused a number of attacks - then I have no real issues with the practice. When people leave their garbage in the street and draw bears (which happens frequently in Sitka despite the fact that the bear population greatly outnumbers the human one), then use diversionary feeding to get them back into the woods and slap a fine on the careless homeowners. After all, people management is the best form of bear management.

    As for Treadwell, the fact that he made it out there for as long as he did unprotected really says a lot about how right he was and the bear that did kill him was a very different creature, at a different time of year, than what he was used to. But that's irrelevant to most. They only see the "bear lover gets eaten by bear" sensationalism. I do wish that he had taken precautions just in case of a bad situation instead of leaving such a black cloud over bear research.

  8. Thanks for clearing that up, Anonymous!
    Senstionalism -- what a word! Never again will its meaning be the same to me, ever since I first touched upon this subject of bear coexistence.
    I have been wondering whether Dr. Rogers' choice to expand his education using the mainstream media was a good idea afterall. Surely, it have been successful by gathering and educating thousands of people around the world about bears, but did he also devalue his work by taking this route? Not in my opinion, but I think many others might. The publicity made him a target for negativity not only from anti-conservationists but also those who disregard media senstionalism instinctively, thinking that "it's just another one of those fads". Especially when the media is inclined to sensationize something that was never intended to be.
    Resorting to the media may be depositioning himself into mere media sensationalism, and although his decision have been successful so far, I wonder if it may hurt the outreach in the long run?
    Of course, if he chose to do nothing then it would be even worse; this subject would simply remain within the circle and unnoticed by the public (and you and me would not be here). But I think it is still quite a risky route to take, and if not careful his work could become discredited forever (in public image).

    I guess our best hope lies in the education of the new generation -- the only people left with pure hearts untainted by prejudice and agendas.

    P.S. The recent anonymous comments were made by me. I forgot to choose the "name" profile in a few of them.

  9. This is part of that big tangled web that you can't help but get wrapped up in when you get involved with bear research and study. Using the media as an outlet is a double-edged sword. It's the best and most thorough way to get your message out there but they can - and often will - use it against you. As you say, though, had he not taken that risk where would any of us be? Where would the research be?

    Working at Fortress of the Bear in Sitka, I've seen a lot of these battles, but more with fish and game officials than with the media. I've never known any other animal to spark so much controversy - either passionate love or venomous spite - as bears do and I can't quite put my finger on why that is but it's been a tug of war between both sides here in Alaska. It can make moving forward a very slow and frustrating process.

    I feel that creating educational resources for usage in classrooms is one of Dr. Rogers' best moves because it is the children who will carry those ideals into adulthood or who will ensure that their parents don't throw their garbage out in the street three days before trash pickup, which is a big problem here in Sitka where you would think people would know better. It's inspired us to create a similar packet of resources to distribute to the schools here so that we can get that next generation thinking about solutions to problems now rather than when it's too late.

  10. I think Hope's death was well planned by a group that hates Lynn and his research. It was legal, but sending a clear message to getting the response's they wanted. Anti hunting posts, threats, etc. This group really wants this research shut down. I fear if protection is ever granted, "accidents" will happen. "I didn't see ribbons" kind of thing. Very disheartening for those of us who have learned so much from Lynn's research. The hatred involved makes Hope's death so hard to accept.

  11. Anonymous, my fingers remain crossed about whether the act was premeditated or simply deliberately careless. Though I could feel that, supposing the killing was deliberate, even if Dr. Rogers knew about it he is still at a disadvantage that revealing what he really knew would make him look bad regardless.
    This is part of what I meant about the drawbacks of publicity through the mass media.

  12. There should be protection on bears and other animals with low populations especially if they are being used for research (and in June, Lily and Hope research even more so due to the rarity of there relationships). If people are scared of the bears ,being starved due to lack of food, coming to humans for food think how of they know we could give them food they can extort us instead of trying to eat us. It is the people who are the problem, not the bears.

  13. I completely agree! I've always said bear management should be people management. They need protection from us, not vice versa.