ELY (WCCO) — People around the world watched online as two Minnesota bear cubs were born in late January to the famous black bear Lily. Sadly, however, less than three months later, one of her cubs, Jason, has died.
Researchers at the North American Bear Center in Ely saw Jason take his last breaths Tuesday afternoon.
Director Dr. Lynn Rogers studied Jason and Faith through the Den Cam and through observation, and early on, says Jason appeared to be the weaker cub.
“He was a little slower in development, a little slower in getting coordination than his sister,” said Rogers.
He says Lily took her cubs to higher ground nearly a half of a mile away when melting snow recently flooded the den. Everyone enjoyed their new home, but Jason.
“Little Jason was just exhausted,” said Rogers. “We don’t know how he moved — if they carried him, dragged him, what they might have done.”
The bear family eventually left Jason behind, as he was too weak to help them search for food. Rogers says Jason appeared listless, but as researchers, their permits don’t allow them to intervene.
“When you see him struggling to live, your heart goes out to him, you think, I wish I could do something, but then you think of, we are here to do research,” said Dr. Rogers.
He says he could only watch Jason’s final moments Tuesday afternoon.
“He convulsed, he urinated, and breathed a few more times, and that was it, at 4:03 pm,” said Rogers. “What I think happened was he got so worn out from that trip where we saw him exhausted, he wasn’t able to get in there and nurse.”
Rogers posted the news on his website, where he says a quarter million people, including students at an estimated 500 schools, have followed the bears’ journey.
Rogers says he began a necropsy, or animal autopsy, to determine a cause of death as he usually does after a bear dies, when the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources stepped in to seize the bear and conduct their own necropsy. Minnesota DNR Communications Director Chris Niskanen called it their standard procedure during a wildlife death investigation.
Niskanen says Rogers can get what is known as a salvage permit to get the bear back for more studies after the DNR investigation is complete, within a few weeks.
However, Rogers said that in his 42 years of research, the DNR has never interrupted his animal autopsies. He calls it a delay in the process and an interference with science.
“Every time, if a bear dies and you want to find out why, you call the game warden to say that the bear died, you proceed with the autopsy, you get some information, and it all helps science,” said Rogers. “We are doing the best we can to find out exactly why Jason died, and it will help understand bears and the challenges they face a little better. We are doing to get to that as soon as the DNR lets us.”
Rogers posted video of the remaining family members — Lily, Hope, and Faith — at their new home Tuesday, the day Jason died.