2008 February - Solo and Cubs Update

solo.jpg On January 14, 2008 the Minnesota DNR captured Solo and her 2 cubs in a pre-dawn raid to place them in captivity at Oswald's Bear Ranch in Michigan for the rest of their lives.  Staff from the Wildlife Science Center in Forest Lake, MN performed the actual capture with support from the MN DNR.

Researchers Lynn Rogers and Sue Mansfield and Eagles Nest Township Board Chair Dan Humay where among those present during the capture and processing of the second cub—the last of the 3 bears to be captured.  The cub had climbed high into a birch tree and the tree was cut down to facilitate the cub's capture.  It is understandable that the researchers and town residents who witnessed the capture were concerned about this cub's health.

Both Rogers and Mansfield asked questions about the condition of the cub but got no response from either the Wildlife Science Center workers or the DNR staff present.  Specifically they asked why pliers was called for, why folks were blocking researchers' view of the cub, and to see the cub.  The only person who would talk to onlookers during the capture was CO Jeff Kane who did not have answers to our questions.  It was later learned that the Wildlife Science Center staff had been told not to talk with anyone.

The questions about the need for pliers and the condition of the bears remained unanswered until January 24 when an email was received from DNR Regional Wildlife Manager Jeff Lightfoot.

The Pliers

Lightfoot explained that the pliers were used to safely handle needles the workers were using.  We later learned that blood had been drawn from the cub and we feel that is likely the reason the pliers were called for.

During the processing of the cub, Rogers had speculated aloud several times that darts sometimes inflict injuries that would necessitate pliers.  Unfortunately, because there was a code of silence among the workers, we were left to worry for over a week without answers.

Blocking Researchers' View

According to Lightfoot there was no attempt to block our view of the cub and helpers were holding flashlights to assist those working directly on the cub.  However, the video clearly shows otherwise.  The video shows the cub being worked on in a well-lit trailer and helpers were simply standing in the way and watching.  While there may not have been a deliberate attempt to block our view, when we pointed out they were blocking our view, no one moved aside.

Seeing the Cub

We asked specifically to see the cub before it was put in the crate so we could assess her health.  We were only allowed to peer through narrow slits near the top of the crate, and we could not see the cub.  Lightfoot stated in his email that the cub was not one of our "research bears" and he felt we "should not have needed any more information or contact with the three animals."  However, the cub was the offspring of a collared research bear and therefore part of the research.  The cub would have been collared in the spring to monitor family breakup as well as her movements as she established her own territory within the study area.

Workers Comments

Although those working on the cub were not responding to questions from researchers, some of their conversation with each other was picked up on the video.  The comment "... this one bore the brunt of it, she's worse than the other one" caused us to worry—given the fact our question about the need for pliers was not answered.  Lightfoot informed us that the comment was in reference to the eye irritation from the pepper spray.

DNR Response

Officials within the MN DNR have expressed anger over our posting an account of the capture and the events that led up to it on this website.  They feel we misled people and distorted the facts.  That certainly was not our intent.  We included as much detail as we could and provided links to original documents to avoid quoting things out of context.  Lightfoot felt we took the workers comments on the cubs condition out of context.  Again, that was not our intent.  The "worse than" comment and the call for "pliers" were the only words uttered by those working on the cub that we could make out.

If the questions we raised during the capture had been answered at the time, there would have been no conjecture about the health of the cub.