Documented bear killed by hunters

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(Host) A New Hampshire black bear that was featured in a National Geographic special has been shot and killed by hunters. The bear, named “Yoda,” had been adopted as an orphaned cub by naturalist Ben Kilham and was an important part of Kilham’s research.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) Ben Kilham says the five-year-old female was shot next to her den in early November, although her death has not been made public until now. Kilham says Yoda was pregnant at the time of her shooting. Although the land wasn’t posted there were signs in the area warning hunters not to shoot bears with bright orange tracking collars. Because the bear was taken in season, no charges were filed against the hunters.

Over the past decade Kilham has become known as the Bear Man for his novel approach to rearing orphaned cubs. Instead of raising them with a minimum of human contact for fear of their becoming too acclimated to people, Kilham did just the opposite – he assumed the role of mother. In his care, the young bears learned how to survive in the woods. Ultimately, almost all of Kilham’s charges were successfully returned to the wild.

Kilham continued to study Yoda after her release. Because of the bond Kilham forged with her over the years, Yoda wasn’t bothered by his presence. Kilham says it gave him an unprecedented opportunity to document new aspects of bear behavior.

(Kilham) “I filmed her one day climbing. It was a hot buggy day and she climbed up in a red maple tree and started breaking limbs off and she fashioned a nest out of limbs and went to sleep for a couple of hours. That was something that had been known in chimpanzees in Africa.”

(Zind) Kilham estimates he spent thousands of hours observing Yoda. The bear had taken up residence in an area near Kilham’s Lyme, New Hampshire home. He says her death is a major setback in a field where there is still much to be learned.

(Kilham) “She was a bear I worked with on a daily basis. She was part of my ongoing research. She was a key part of it. I’m trying to figure out the social relationships between bears, between females and their surrounding competitor females.”

(Zind) Yoda was featured in a televised special produced by National Geographic and in a March 2002 magazine article. She’s also the subject of a documentary currently being produced by the Discovery Channel. Kilham says unfortunately, that program now has an unhappy ending. For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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