MINNEAPOLIS — Researchers fear a hunter may have killed a black bear named Hope who became famous when her birth in northeastern Minnesota was broadcast live to a worldwide audience over the Internet.
Lynn Rogers, senior biologist with the North American Bear Center and its affiliated Wildlife Research Institute, said Monday that Hope was last seen Sept. 14.
Rogers is waiting to hear from the Department of Natural Resources whether a hunter registered killing a bear matching the description of Hope. He said the local game warden told him he’d need to seek clearance from other DNR officials to release the information.
The center installed a camera inside Lily’s den and thousands of people watched over the Internet as Hope’s mother, Lily, give birth two winters ago.
Hope did not have a radio collar but often roamed with Lily, whose collar showed she visited the hunter’s bait station three times — on Sept. 15, 16 and 17. “Then she left and never returned to it. And Hope was never seen again,” Rogers said.
Lily’s Facebook page has more than 132,000 fans and word of Hope’s potential demise has generated hundreds of postings on it, mostly from mourners and opponents of hunting. People in 132 counties and students at more than 500 schools have been following the lives of Lily, Hope, and Lily’s youngest cub Faith, Rogers said. He said some teachers called him in tears over the weekend, asking what they should tell their students.
Rogers said he knows the hunter who maintained the bait station, and knows he would not shoot a radio-collared bear, which is legal but officially discouraged in Minnesota. He said the hunter answered some questions via email but did not say if he shot Hope.
“I’m figuring I’ll never release his name,” Rogers said, adding that the center’s goal is to “peacefully coexist with hunters. ... We just want to know what happened and go on from there.”
Still, Rogers said he has to wonder if the hunter deliberately sought out Hope. He said the hunter has posted messages before on a Facebook page with around 50 fans called “Lily: a bear with a bounty,” where some postings last week spoke of “Hope jerky” or Hope cooked in a crockpot.