Jason dies

Lily_et_al_at_wp_-_20110412Jason is dead.  We saw his last breath at 4:03 PM today.  We know how you feel because we know how we felt being there, seeing Jason struggling to live while we struggled to decide what was right or wrong for us to do.  It’s the kind of thing where there will be as many opinions as people.  It is one of the things we considered when we decided to place a Den Cam and write updates so everyone can see what we see and learn together with us.

Between the Den Cam and the trust-based research we do, we are seeing things that were only mysteries in the past.  In most cases when a cub comes up missing, researchers can only guess what happened.  With our methods, we watch cubs grow up, watch some fail, and sometimes are able to retrieve the body for autopsy.  For Jason, the autopsy is tomorrow morning with a veterinarian with over 40 years experience.

Faith relaxes near Lily after nursing
Here’s what we saw.  We snowmobiled to the den to fix the camera on Friday but found that the family had moved away from the den area.  We homed in on Lily’s radio-collar and found them 0.26 miles away as the crow flies—0.42 miles away by the most likely route.  We wondered how the cubs, especially Jason could move that far.  Jason was beat and mainly wanted to sleep.  Faith had energy.  We hoped Jason would nurse, rest, and recover.  We worried along with you.

Nature conspired against us the next couple days of rain and melting.  There was too little snow for the snowmobile and too much for the 4-wheel-drive pickup.  By Monday afternoon, the snow softened enough for the pickup to make it through.  We hoped we would find Jason strong and recovered.

About 4:15 PM on Monday, we arrived at their big white pine and saw the bad news.  Jason was much weaker, was alone, and Lily’s telemetry signal showed her to be a third of a mile away.  He was so listless, we thought he would die overnight.  We gently weighed him—just under 4 pounds.

Why did the others move?  Did Lily feel the need to forage for the good of the others?  Had Jason become too weak to climb to a nipple and nurse vigorously?  Did Lily realize Jason was too far gone to survive and that she had to continue life with the healthy cubs?

We wondered what we should do.   Should we help Jason?  Could we help Jason?  Our permit states that “The study bears shall not be possessed longer than necessary for scientific handling and shall not be kept in captivity.”  If we couldn’t take him and give him hourly feedings, should we find someone who could?  The only licensed rehab facility in Minnesota is 3 hours away.  Should we call and see if they could take Jason?  Could that be worked out soon enough to save him?  The biggest question was what if we interfered and took Jason and Lily came back for him?  She was only a third of a mile away.   We felt we had to let nature take its course.  This wasn’t like giving a hand to Hope to answer a host of scientific questions.  We decided to leave Jason and monitor Lily’s radio-signal to see what she was doing in this crisis.

We stayed one to two tenths of a mile away from Lily to avoid any chance of influencing her activity.  We found their tracks and learned that Hope and Faith were with her.  The spacing of Faith’s tracks showed she was bouncing agilely along.  The telemetry signals showed the family was continuously moving.  An hour before dark, they were moving back toward Jason, but as darkness fell, they settled down for the night, again about a third of a mile away from Jason.  We walked out of the woods late, which is why there was no update last night.

We checked Jason at 10:50 this morning.  Weaker by far.  He couldn’t lift his head.  Lily was still a third of a mile away and not moving back.  What could she be doing?  How is Faith after the additional travel?  Would she be next?  We joined them to find answers.

Hope and Faith nurse side by side

Faith was fine and scampered 25 feet up the white pine they were at.  Three feet from the tree was a log Lily and Hope had been tearing at for grubs.  From the looks of it and the scats present, they had been there all day.  Likely, they had found the log late yesterday, bedded by the tree, and worked on the log all day.  We joined them for a couple hours in mid-afternoon.  Faith and Hope nursed peacefully and vigorously together.  Faith used her own nipple and the one Jason had been using.  Hope used the two on her side.  When they were done, they each checked the nipples the other had been using and the inguinal nipples between Lily’s legs.  Hope and Lily dug at the log together.  Faith napped and then played with vegetation and Lily.  Hope paid little attention to Faith as Faith slept tight against the white pine.  

Faith at base of white pine
When Faith woke up, we wanted to weigh her to compare her weight with Jason’s.  She edged away.  She is now past the trusting stage.  We didn’t form a good enough bond with her in that stage, preferring to stay away and observe undisturbed behavior.  She screamed, and we saw the biggest display of protective behavior we ever saw from Lily, or perhaps any bear.  She came running and meant business.  Her first look was at Faith.  Then she glanced around for the culprit.  Seeing none, she let Lynn know in no uncertain terms that he was too close even though he had backed up 10 feet as she came running.  Seeing Lynn back-pedaling, she went back to Faith.  Usually, bears that come to screaming cubs don’t consider Lynn the reason.  We wondered if Jason had anything to do with her unusually strong protection of Faith.  Five minutes later, she let us change her radio-collar just before we left.

We returned to Jason in time to see his final convulsion, urination, and last breaths at 4:03 PM.  We brought him back for an autopsy.  We called the game warden for a salvage permit and the veterinarian to schedule the autopsy.

Why did Jason fall behind Faith and die even though they appeared to be the same size?  We don’t know yet.  Our first guess is that sharing milk with Hope and dominant Faith might not have left him enough milk for full development.  The nipple Jason used was less than half as swollen with milk as the one Faith was using.

There is much more to write, and we will know more tomorrow.

Video of today's visit with Lily, Hope, and Faith is posted at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wS3rTK2Ut4I.

The good news is that Ted Oakes, the producer of The Bear Family and Me, said today that National Geographic will air the 3-part series in June.

We’re doing an impressive job in the Readers Digest contest.  The link to vote 10 times in a row each day is http://wehearyouamerica.readersdigest.com/town.jsp?town=ELY&state=MN.

Thank you for all you do.

—Lynn Rogers and Sue Mansfield, Biologists, Wildlife Research Institute and North American Bear Center

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