The bear cub, which had fast become an Internet darling like his mother, was dying.

But Ely bear researcher Lynn Rogers knew there was no option: Nature had to take its course. So, deep in the woods on Tuesday, Jason the cub took his last breath as Rogers stood nearby.

Hundreds of condolences (more than 1,200 by Wednesday evening) have streamed in from around the world. Thousands of Facebook fans had tracked Jason's brief life via Web cams and Internet postings by Rogers.

Jason's mother, Lily, became an Internet sensation last year when a Web cam captured her giving birth to her first cub, Hope. Facebook followers were drawn into the bears' daily lives, fretting when the cub and her mother became separated and rejoicing when they reunited.

In January, under the camera's eye, Lily delivered two cubs: Jason and Faith. When the bears -- including Hope, now a yearling -- emerged, a camera on tree panned, tilted and zoomed on their activities for all to see.

Rogers knew that Jason was struggling. He was less coordinated than his sister as the two cubs began to walk in mid-March. Outside, Faith began to climb a tree. "Jason sat there or would walk around unsteadily," Rogers said. "When Lily wandered off, Faith followed. Jason stayed, crying."

As spring temperatures melted the snow, water flooded their lowland den. "It was time to go, whether Jason was ready or not," Rogers said. Lily, Hope and the two cubs found higher ground and a white pine tree. Tracking the radio signal from Lily's collar on Friday, Rogers said he found Hope and Faith scampering energetically while Jason lay near the tree.

By Tuesday, the end was near. "He could hardly lift his head," Rogers said. "He was too far gone to help at that point.''

About a quarter-mile away, the other bears tore into a log, feeding on grubs. When Rogers and the two other researchers returned to Jason, his breathing was labored. He took his last breath at 4:03 p.m.

As required, Rogers contacted the Department of Natural Resources and then called a local veterinarian to conduct an examination in hopes of discovering why the cub died. Rogers also contacted a taxidermist so that Jason could be stuffed and exhibited at the North American Bear Center.

But on Wednesday morning, DNR officials confiscated the bear, Rogers said. Rogers said he later was told that the DNR wanted to examine the bear and "may or may not give it back."

DNR officials couldn't be reached for comment.

Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788