Lily’s cub Hope
“(I have) a feeling of emptiness worse than some of the people I have lost.” — Lynn Rogers, bear biologist, when his favorite research wild bear, June, was targeted and killed by hunters.
For over 45 years, biologist Lynn Rogers has learned from black bears. He opened the North American Bear Education Center in Ely, Minnesota, in 2007 to educate people about the timid, intelligent, shy and non-aggressive nature of our native black bears.
Living bears are fascinating and fun. Killing bears is violent and cruel. Oct. 13 marked the end of this year’s DNR-sanctioned execution of 4,750 black bears, mostly cubs, which were hunted using dogs and bait.
Rogers had studied black bears for over two decades when he arrived in Eagle’s Nest, Minnesota. He had rarely seen the bears he was studying except from the air. Like many people, he was scared of bears. He had bought the taxidermy portrayal of the grimacing, snarling, fierce bears portrayed in outdoors pages that promote hunting. He said, “We didn’t know much about them — just the stories we heard.”
He found that the local people around Eagle’s Nest had been feeding bears in their gardens for over 50 years. They knew the bears and were not afraid of them. Rogers is embarrassed to say it took him 20 years to overcome his own preconceptions and fears. What he learned challenged the assumptions that bears are dangerous. In fact, Rogers has said, “You are never so safe as in the woods with a black bear.”
One can learn bear etiquette. They take naps. They make dens. They raise cubs. They forage. They have seen their mothers, sisters, brothers and cubs chased by men with dogs and killed year after year. They are afraid of us. So they bluff charge — and run. They have no defense against crossbows and guns. When they climb trees they think they are safe. But that is when they are most vulnerable.
Think of what we are missing by not being able to meet our bears and get to know them in peace.
In winter 2007, Rogers put a camera inside the den of a bear he named June, just days after she had given birth to a little cub he named Lily. Roger’s partner, Sue Mansfield, filmed Lily’s life from the beginning. The little bear grew up trusting researchers. Rogers developed such a close relationship with June that he could change her radio collar with a handful of peanuts and no anesthesia. It was unprecedented.
Rogers says in the BBC documentary “Lily, A Bear’s Life,” “This family of bears is providing more information about bear biology than any bear ever has. It opens the door to stuff we did not believe possible.”
Lily rose to worldwide fame in 2010, when she had a single cub named Hope. Lily and Hope went viral on Facebook. Thousands joined their page per hour. In 150 countries and 500 classrooms, millions of people saw bears being bears — birthing, taking care of cubs in a den, all for the first time.
When they emerged from their den, Lily was a first-time mother. At one point she abandoned Hope and did not return. It was huge. The world watched the drama unfold. Five days later Hope was presumed dead. She was so tiny. Then a lone cub was spotted far from the den. Rogers went to investigate. It was Hope. Fans went crazy. There were opinions and controversy over whether to let nature take its course or intervene. Rogers said, “We’re biologists, but we’re human as well.”
They brought Hope back to Lily. Lily tried nursing her but her milk had dried up. The biologists decided to help Hope. Sometimes she showed up for feeding, sometimes not. One month later, Lily did something totally unexpected. She reunited with Hope. Lily, pregnant again, denned with Hope, who then played with a surviving sibling.
Hope was killed that next September, in 2011, legally shot at a hunter’s bait site near the bear education center. The grief of children and fans around the world was heartbreaking.
The BBC films describes how hunters set up their own Facebook page to retaliate and posted a bounty on research bears. Lily was now a bear with a bounty on her head. In 2013, Dot, a local neighborhood favorite, was killed.
Despite their contribution to science and Lily’s popularity, the Minnesota state DNR refuses to legally protect Rogers’ research bears. Hunting is big business.
Watching the BBC documentary about Lily, one sees toward the end of the film that Rogers goes looking for Aster, Lily’s sister, whose radio collar indicates she is not moving. It is hunting season again. He finds her and when he says to her softly, “It’s me, bear,” she is afraid to come to him. She has been shot and her shoulder is shattered. She is filmed walking away down the road, holding up her injured leg. She is not seen the next year.
On Sept. 27, 2013, another collared bear was shot. It was June, Rogers’ favorite research bear. Sue Mansfield says, “Killing June was the best way to get to Lynn and I. She lives on in all she has given us.” Any hunter looking to make a statement succeeded.
The statement: Science and non-hunters are irrelevant. Wildlife belongs to hunters exclusively for killing. Hunters rule.
Contact your representative to support Sen. Fred Risser’s legislation to ban hunting and trapping in all state parks.
Wisconsin is one of only a few states in the nation that allows the year-round use of hunting hounds to pursue animals, causing injury, dog-fighting, and death to species in their path. The John Muir Chapter of the Sierra Club is conducting a survey to determine the frequency and severity of hound-related experiences in Wisconsin to help guide future decisions.
Please take a few minutes to oppose the Bipartisan Sportsmen’s Act of 2015, S. 405 on this simple form. It would open new federal lands to steel-jaw traps and snares, increase trophy hunting, and leave lead shot on our public lands.