JIm Stoner for Wildlife Research Institute
Lily the bear peeks out of her den earlier this year. She gave birth to twins on Jan. 12.
One of the world’s most famous bears has given birth to twins.
Lily, who gained worldwide attention three years ago when the birth of her cub, Hope, was broadcast live on the Internet, delivered two apparently healthy cubs this past Saturday, with thousands of her human fans again watching by den cam.
Bear researcher Lynn Rogers, with the Wildlife Research Institute, said he’s only been able to glimpse one of the cubs so far, but judged from vocalizations that both animals are healthy. “They both have strong voices,” he said.
Lily and her two cubs are spending the winter under a large pile of limbs left over from a recent logging operation in Eagles Nest Township, located between Tower and Ely. Lily entered the den back on Sept. 10 and has remained there ever since.
While bears in northern Minnesota spend most of their lives in their dens, little has been known about what bears do in their winter residences, that is, until den cams offered researchers and the public a glimpse into their world. Unlike true hibernators, bears wake up from time to time during the winter and that’s been true of Lily, as well as a related bear, Jewel, who is denned up with her two yearling cubs and is also being monitored by den cam. “Contrary to old beliefs about hibernation, the [Jewel’s] family is often awake with the cubs still seeking to nurse,” said Rogers.
Rogers is being helped in his research efforts by a team of 130 volunteer den watchers, who provide round-the-clock monitoring of the bear dens, collecting data on bear activities.
Lily’s two cubs were born about a week or so earlier than researchers had expected. In two previous years, Lily had given birth around Jan. 20. Despite the earlier than expected birth, there’s no reason to think the cubs were born prematurely, said Rogers. The difference could simply mean that the fertilized eggs implanted in Lily a bit earlier than before. While bears mate in May and June in the North Country, the fertilized eggs don’t typically implant in the mother bear’s womb until November. After a roughly two-month gestation, the tiny cubs are born blind and with little fur, leaving them utterly dependent on their mother for several months. If all goes well, the cubs should open their eyes for the first time in about six weeks. They could emerge from the den for the first time in early to mid-April, or possibly earlier depending on weather conditions.
Rogers is perhaps best known for his unusual method of studying wild black bears, which include building trust through hand-feeding, which allows Rogers and fellow researchers to walk with bears through the forest and monitor their activities continuously and at close range. “Learning from bears directly creates a better understanding of the species as more people move into bear habitat. Old myths are being replaced with facts,” said Rogers.
But Rogers has occasionally clashed with officials from the Department of Natural Resources, who maintain that his methods are habituating bears to humans and causing problems for people and bears alike. Rogers disagrees and says his research shows that diversionary feeding of black bears can actually reduce bear problems, particularly during times when natural bear foods are relatively scarce.