Hope, the Minnesota black bear whose birth and life made her an Internet darling, apparently was shot and killed by a hunter this month, bringing some of her thousands of Facebook friends to tears and others to rage.
Bear researcher Lynn Rogers had been resigned to the idea Hope had been shot since she went missing but wanted confirmation. He apparently got that when a hunter, a friend of Rogers', sent him an e-mail Tuesday saying he shot a yearling drawn to bait he set out to attract bear. The hunter told Rogers the bear wasn't wearing a radio collar, which would have identified it as a research animal.
Rogers said Hope was able to get out of the collar each of the four times he placed one on her. But Rogers and his researchers were able to track Hope because she and her mother, Lily, and a cub named Faith traveled together. The researchers last saw the three together Sept. 14.
The next day, Rogers said, the GPS-tracking collar Lily wears indicated the bears were feeding at the hunter's bait. Rogers said Lily's tracking device also indicated she was back Sept. 17. But three days later, the researchers realized Hope was missing when they spotted Lily and Faith without her.
With bear hunting season in effect, Rogers said he was "very worried" Hope had been killed, setting off a stream of Facebook messages from fans expressing sadness and some expressing anger over hunting.
On Tuesday, Rogers tried to tamp down the outrage with posts on Lily's Facebook page and on the North American Bear Center website.
"The hunter is known to us and has cooperated with us in the past," he posted. "He would never shoot a collared bear and would not have deliberately shot Hope." Rogers told followers he was keeping the hunter's name confidential, saying "attacks on him or hunters in general will only serve to undermine our potential for future research and education."
Although he doesn't want research bears killed, Rogers noted that he supports hunting "as a way to limit bears to the number people will accept as we try to expand acceptance through education."
It's not illegal to shoot a research bear, but the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has asked hunters not to.
Rogers said he has not seen the dead bear but is confident it is Hope because she had been with Lily and Faith at the bait site. The researchers found an area 165 yards from the bait where a bear, likely Lily, bedded down.
It's likely Lily and Faith were resting there when Hope scampered off to the bait Sept. 16.
"Unfortunately, the hunter was there," Rogers said. The hunter said the yearling was at the bait alone when he shot it.
Rogers said he understands the sadness of those posting on the Facebook page. "You can't work with an animal and not get to know them and their quirks. You have to be sensitive to them to gain their trust," he said, referring to his experience as a researcher. "You get close to them."
He also understands bears' scientific value. "We know how important these bears are for science, education and the region."
Rogers said he has lost six radio-collared bears since 2005.
Last year, 9,200 hunters had permits to hunt bear; 2,699 animals were taken.
On Tuesday, the DNR fielded dozens of calls from people upset about Hope's death. One caller from England berated the person answering the phone, saying Minnesotans should move out of bear territory.
"It seemed a bit irrational," said Chris Niskanen, DNR spokesman.
"A lot of people are emotionally invested in these bears" because they've followed their lives on the Internet, he said. "We point out that we don't manage individual bears, we manage the bear population."
Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788