Hope, Lily the black bear's cub, feared dead

Hope, who was born live on web cam, has been missing for 12 days.
Hope, who was born live on web cam, has been missing for 12 days.

Hope the black bear cub was born live via webcam, making her an instant internet sensation with thousands of fans. But now, evidence suggests that something may have happened to the juvenile, who rarely leaves her mother's side.

"Lily, Hope and Faith were constantly together," says bear researcher Lynn Rogers. "We just visited Lily and Faith again, and, you know, no Hope."

While Rogers waits for official Department of Natural Resources confirmation, he's piecing together what little information he has to solve the mystery.

After Lily the bear became an internet sensation, giving birth by web cam to not only Hope but her brother Jason, thousands of bear fans have kept track of the cubs. Jason's death this past spring created a minor uproar in the online community, but that at least appeared to be from natural causes.

Hope as a young cub.
Hope as a young cub.

Hope was last seen on September 14, snuffling around with her mother. Then for about three days, the little tribe wandered into the vicinity of a bear bait -- a pile of food that bear hunters lay out in the hopes it will attract the animals. The hunter typically sits up in a tree waiting to take a shot.

The researchers didn't follow the animals to the bait, as it would have upset the uneasy truce between themselves and local hunters.

"There was really nothing we could do other than trust his good will," says Rogers. "But Hope was never seen again."

Rogers says he knows the hunter who owns the bait and that he would not shoot a radio collared bear. But when he emailed the hunter to ask if he had killed a small female black bear, he could not get a straight answer. Rogers claims the same hunter has been active in campaigns to prevent research bears from getting special protection.

On the pro-bear hunting Facebook page "Lily: A bear with a bounty," posters are treating the death as a foregone conclusion, saying that Hope was not collared.

"Who's making hope jerky this weekend?" says one. 

Rogers is waiting to hear if the Department of Natural Resources will be able to confirm or deny whether Hope is dead, though that might take a few more days. At this point, however, he is fearing the worst. 

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