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Ringo Redux

Two years ago this month, he was a cause célébre, but his moment of fame ended in tragedy

Marshall Helmberger
Posted 6/23/21

ELY— Two years ago this month, he was the talk of Ely and beyond.A young male bear, sporting a round garbage can lid around his neck, had become a cause célébre, as residents …

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Ringo Redux

Two years ago this month, he was a cause célébre, but his moment of fame ended in tragedy

Posted

ELY— Two years ago this month, he was the talk of Ely and beyond.
A young male bear, sporting a round garbage can lid around his neck, had become a cause célébre, as residents around the White Iron chain of lakes attempted to keep tabs on the bruin, who was quickly and predictably dubbed “Ringo.”
The ring made the young bear easy to identify and it revealed that Ringo ran a regular circuit of feeding locations, ranging from garbage cans and dumpsters to bird feeders. News of the bear’s troubles soon spread. T-shirts were printed. Facebook groups were formed. Eventually, Ringo’s plight made the pages of the Wall Street Journal. It was Ringo’s fifteen minutes of fame, yet it quickly faded as the bear seemed to vanish one day. By early July, reports of Ringo sightings had dried up and it led to speculation that the bear had somehow managed to remove the ring.
Efforts by the Department of Natural Resources to do just that had been unsuccessful.
The DNR, under pressure from the public, tried for weeks to capture Ringo using barrel traps along his regular route, but even though Ringo entered the traps on more than occasion, he never tripped them. The DNR caught other bears, instead.
We now know the real story of how Ringo lost his ring, and that the episode ended just days later with the death of the young bear.
Ray Mair and his wife Paula had known Ringo for some time, although they had a different name for this frequent visitor to their backyard on White Iron Lake. “We called him Percy,” said Ray.
Percy regularly visited the Mairs’ residence, occasionally grabbing sunflower seeds from their bird feeders. While they occasionally tried to shoo him away, they noted he didn’t cause any damage and never seemed threatening. A video security system that the couple installed allowed them to watch wildlife from their home day and night, which was a primary factor in the couple’s decision to move to the area.
They had been cautious around bears up until then but after Percy showed up with the ring around its neck, they observed that he was struggling to eat and began to lose weight. After DNR efforts to trap the bear in their yard proved unsuccessful, they decided to try to help on their own. They began laying out sunflower seeds and other treats and worked to gain the bear’s trust. At one point, Ray reached out and touched the bear. When it didn’t react fearfully, they decided to try to remove the ring by diverting him with treats. In the late morning of July 2, 2019, Percy showed up and while Paula distracted him with treats, Ray used a limb cutter to carve away chunks out of the plastic ring. Two hours later, just before noon, Ray was able to wrest it free from the bear’s neck. “Ringo” was no more.
Ray said the ring was surprisingly heavy. Though made of plastic, it contained several pounds of sand to help weigh it down against the wind and he imagines it was quite a relief to have the burden removed. The video of the event doesn’t show any noticeable reaction on the part of the bear, who was focused primarily on the treats in Paula’s hand.
At the time, it seemed like a happy ending for the bear, but it would prove to be short-lived, according to Mair. Just days later, in the wake of a report that a bear had bitten a teenage jogger near White Iron Lake, a local DNR conservation officer shot a young male bear that did not show fear when he approached it at the site of a dumpster owned by a local resort.
At the time, the DNR contended that the bear was the same one that had bitten the young female jogger, but DNA tests on the teen’s ripped pants found only evidence of dog DNA. DNR officials say the proximity of the bear to the scene of the reported attack on the jogger strongly suggested that the bear they shot was the animal involved in the reported attack.
Mair said he has no doubt that the bear shot that day was Ringo. Mair said his lake home is just half a mile from the dumpster in question and that the bear was at his residence just hours before. “We actually have video of Percy in the yard around midnight on the night before he was assassinated,” said Ray. He said the bear also had a distinctive white chest blaze, which he recognized in autopsy photos which he later requested from the DNR as part of a public data request. “They gave me the run-around and wouldn’t provide the DNA results,” said Ray, although he did eventually receive photos of the dead bear. The autopsy report also indicated that the bear had considerable degeneration in its left elbow, which is consistent with video of Percy, in which the bear shows a pronounced limp on its front left leg.
Mair contacted the Timberjay back in April after this newspaper reported on the DNA results from the jogger’s pants. He said he faults the DNR’s handling of the incident and he doesn’t believe that Percy was involved in any unprovoked attack. “He was a very peaceful bear,” he said.
Appreciation for Ringo was shared by others in the neighborhood who grew to recognize the bear even before the day he showed up with his ring. “What was unique about him, is that of all the bears I’ve seen, he probably had more eye contact with you than any other,” said Amy Stewart, who lives with her husband down the road from the Mairs. “The way he looked at you was kind of different. He was the first bear that made me think they might have some kinds of emotion,” she said.
Stewart said her experiences with Ringo, and other bears that have made their way through her yard in the four years she’s lived in the area, have changed her understanding and appreciation for bears. “When I first moved here, I was deathly afraid of bears. I thought they would rip me limb from limb,” she said. “But I’ve never had one become even remotely aggressive with me.”
When Ringo first appeared with his ring, he would often come to Stewart’s house, and sit outside their door, looking in. “It’s like he was asking us to do something,” she said. She said she could tell that the ring, which Ringo had apparently picked up while raiding a public garbage can along Ely’s Trezona Trail, was a significant burden to him. Stewart repeatedly called the DNR, asking for assistance. The agency first deployed the barrel trap at her residence, where they caught two other bears that were later released. When she later learned of how the Mairs had removed Ringo’s collar, she was amazed and agreed to keep their experience a secret, until the Mairs revealed it publicly for this story.
While her view of bears has changed, Stewart recognizes that they are wild animals, best observed at a distance. “They’re beautiful to watch,” she said. “People can learn a lot. Just don’t try to pet them.”

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  • blackbear

    Black bears are very shy, peaceful animals. If you don't want black bears in your yard, keep your garbage locked up and don't put out bird feeders, or hang bear proof bird feeders that are inaccessible to bears. We coexist with bears, birds, squirrels and chipmunks in our yard without any problems. If you don't understand bear behavior, visit the North American Bear Center. The DNR kills far too many black bears with a false narrative that isnt based in science and they don't educate the public about the 2 simple things that keep black bears out of your yard, instead they just continue to shoot the animals they are supposed to protect.

    Friday, June 25 Report this

  • snowshoe2

    Well after neighbors and others told a neighbor lady to take her birdfeeder down because of bears. She said no.

    Well a friend of mine does his daily walks on a tarred walking trail past her house. You guessed it, a sow and two cubs came to the feeder and my friend was charged by the bear with no time for him to react. The bear swatted him once, he went flying 10 feet in the air with multiple ribs broken and injured hip. 4 years later now he is still sore.

    The sheriff and MN DNR had to step in and make the lady quit feeding. The bears moved back into the woods where they belong. Those who feed bears contribute to incidents like I mention.

    Saturday, June 26 Report this