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John Myers, Forum Communications Co., Published May 28 2010

Hanging on to Hope: Mama bear, cub inseparable after reunion

Hope and Lily, the reunited black bear cub and mother in the woods west of Ely, spent much of Thursday playing and nursing, and didn’t spend any time apart.

That’s the report from Ely bear researchers Lynn Rogers and Sue Mansfield, who brought cub and mother back together Wednesday night after a separation of more than five days.

“Lily will manipulate Hope and it looks like it might be too rough for her,” Rogers said of the mother-child play. “But then Hope just comes right back for more.”

The two bears are famous worldwide on the Internet, the subjects of last winter’s hibernation den camera that offered Web viewers constant coverage of Hope’s birth and first months in the den. Lily now has nearly 97,000 Facebook fans worldwide, and thanks to GPS and radio-tracking technology, the researchers follow and video the bears almost daily, posting regular updates for the world to see.

Many of those Facebook fans had been waiting on pins and needles since Saturday when the first reports surfaced that mother and bear had separated.

Perhaps the most remarkable part of the adventure was 20-pound,

4-month-old Hope’s ability to navigate more than two miles by herself — around a lake, through swamps and forest and across a stream — to an area she and Lily had frequented in the days before they became separated.

“We learned a lot out of this,’’ Rogers said. “We had no idea a cub could move that far on its own and remember where it had been with its mother. ... And we had no idea if Lily would not only take her back, but still be able to nurse’’ after five days.

The cub not only navigated well but it avoided perils like cars and trucks, other bears, wolves and dogs.

And then luck and circumstances took over.

Had Mike and Ellen Kochevar, local cabin owners, not been out for a ride and not seen a tiny, lone cub on a forest road, and had they not been able to tree the cub, and had they not been friends with Rogers, and had they not known the cub was lost, and had they not known Roger’s phone number, the cub might simply have wandered into the woods and starved to death.

While cubs might scrounge for water and insects and clover, mother’s milk still makes up 95 percent of their diet at this age, and the cub hadn’t nursed for more than five days.

It was also fortunate that Lily was less than a mile away from where Hope was found, allowing a quick reunion at about 8:30 Wednesday night. And then it was lucky that, when the pet kennel in which Rogers carried Hope broke, the two bears were close enough to smell and hear each other.

Mansfield said she was uncertain at the time if Lily would accept Hope or could still nurse the cub. Lily had clearly given up on finding the cub four days ago.

“Lily at first acted afraid of the cub, like she didn’t know what to think of it,’’ Mansfield said.

But the reunion went better than anyone expected. The two bears touched noses and welcomed each other, and the bawling cub began to nurse like crazy.

“It was so emotional for us, and I know for all the people who have come to love these bears,’’ Mansfield said. “But imagine what it was like for the bears.’’