After Walking Thousands Of Miles, Mink The Bear Is Almost Back Home

19 hours ago
Originally published on May 15, 2019 11:23 am

For years, an elderly resident of Hanover, N.H., fed one particular female black bear. The old man's food offer of choice? Birdseed and maple-glazed doughnuts from a diner down the street.

Then the man died, and the bear started venturing out farther in search of more delicious treats.

She had become comfortable around humans, and people in town grew to love her — a lumbering, strong but gentle animal that would come right up to your door. She's named Mink, after a local natural area called Mink Brook.

"She's a beautiful bear. She's an amazing bear," said Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin. "Anybody that likes animals was enchanted by her."

She's a beautiful bear. She's an amazing bear. Anybody that likes animals was enchanted by her. - Julia Griffin, Hanover Town Manager

But others were scared, and state wildlife officials decided, for safety's sake, the bear needed to go. They planned to shoot her, but local news outlets picked up the story and a petition to save Mink got thousands of signatures.

Then New Hampshire's governor intervened, and had Mink relocated instead.

Mink had to move

Just under a year ago, officials dropped Mink off with a tracking collar far north, near the Canadian border.

Mink the bear's travels from April through October 2018, as tracked by New Hampshire Fish and Game.
Courtesy of New Hampshire Fish and Game

But she immediately started making her way back.

"She was going 30 miles a day," said Ben Kilham, a biologist who has been tracking Mink's location. "If anything, we should get her into a triathlon."

She has logged thousands of looping miles, crossing Interstate 91 and the Connecticut River multiple times.

The lead bear official for the state of New Hampshire said he's never dealt with an animal that's traveled so long, hibernating for the winter and then continuing on. He now checks her progress first thing every morning.

She was going 30 miles a day. If anything, we should get her into a triathlon. - Ben Kilham, wildlife biologist

He's not alone in his interest. Even the governor asked to be included on the data. "And he's clearly been watching," Kilham said. "Probably the whole office down there has been watching, because it's fascinating the way she moves."

Bears are known to be able to find their way home, or at least try to. That's why wildlife officials believed killing Mink was more humane than putting her through an arduous journey.

Mink showed up in Patricia Campbell's backyard earlier this spring.
Courtesy of Patricia Campbell

"To see how far she traveled, and how thin she was last fall, we all felt like — oh boy — what have we done to this sow?" Griffin said.

Until recently, though, the general public didn't know Mink was getting close. But earlier this spring, a woman named Patricia Campbell spotted a bear outside her house, less than 20 miles from Hanover.

Campbell took a bunch of photos, and Mink once again ended up in the local news.

Biologists now say she could be back in Hanover anytime. From there, her future is unclear.

"If she comes right back as our nuisance bear in Mink Brook corridor," Griffin said, "I don't know what more we can do."

At this point, wildlife officials are taking things day by day. There's no plan in place if Mink makes it back. They're just hoping she'll lie low in the woods.

Copyright 2019 New Hampshire Public Radio. To see more, visit New Hampshire Public Radio.

NOEL KING, HOST:

For years, a man in New Hampshire fed maple-glazed doughnuts to a black bear. When the man died, the bear went into town to look for more doughnuts. So wildlife officials moved her into the woods far up north. Ever since then, the bear has been making her way home. Here's New Hampshire Public Radio's Britta Greene.

BRITTA GREENE, BYLINE: Today I'm driving with Michael Hinsley. He's deputy fire chief in Hanover, N.H., but he's also the town's resident bear wrangler. He takes me to the original scene of the crime, where the maple-glazed doughnuts were served.

MICHAEL HINSLEY: This is ground zero.

GREENE: Oh, this was that guy's home?

HINSLEY: Oh, yeah (laughter). Yeah, that's it right there.

GREENE: The old man's house borders a nature preserve called Mink Brook. That's actually where the bear got her name.

HINSLEY: Mink, as an animal, became habituated for over a decade of daily feeding.

GREENE: In other words, Mink got comfortable around humans. And when she started venturing further, looking for food after the doughnuts dried up, people in town grew to love her - a lumbering, strong but gentle animal that would come right up to your door.

Hanover town manager Julia Griffin is among her fans.

JULIA GRIFFIN: She's a beautiful bear. She's an amazing bear. Anybody that likes animals was enchanted by her.

GREENE: But some people were scared. And ultimately, state wildlife officials made the decision that, for safety's sake, the bear needed to go. They planned to shoot her, but local news outlets picked up the story. A petition to save Mink got thousands of signatures. New Hampshire's governor intervened - had her relocated instead. Officials dropped her off with a tracking collar on the other side of the White Mountains near the Canadian border. She immediately started making her way back.

BEN KILHAM: She was going 30 miles a day. If anything, we should get her into a triathlon (laughter).

GREENE: This is Ben Kilham. He's a bear biologist near Hanover who's tracking Mink's location, getting readings once an hour. She's logged thousands of looping miles. She's crossed Interstate 91 and the Connecticut River multiple times.

The lead bear official for the state of New Hampshire told me he's never dealt with an animal that's travelled so long - hibernating for the winter, like Mink did - and continuing on. He now checks her progress anxiously, he says, first thing every morning. And he's not alone.

Kilham says even the governor asked to be included on the data.

KILHAM: I mean, he's clearly been watching. Probably, the whole office down there has been watching because it's fascinating the way she moves.

GREENE: Bears are known to be able to find their way home or at least try to. Actually, that's why wildlife officials first wanted to kill Mink. They said it was more humane than putting her through an arduous journey. Adult bears, including sows, females like Mink, are particularly likely to attempt a trek.

Town Manager Julia Griffin says it's been hard to watch.

GRIFFIN: To see how far she traveled and how thin she was last fall - we all felt like, what have we done to this sow?

GREENE: Until very recently, though, word wasn't out to the general public that Mink was getting close. That is until earlier this spring, when a woman named Patricia Campbell spotted a bear outside her house, less than 20 miles from Hanover.

PATRICIA CAMPBELL: So I walked to the dining room, and she was right outside the window. She wasn't more than a foot away from the house.

GREENE: Campbell took a bunch of photos. And Mink, once again, ended up in the local news. Biologists now say she could be back in Hanover any time. If that happens, says Griffin, her future may hinge on her behavior.

GRIFFIN: If she comes right back as our nuisance bear in Mink Brook corridor, I don't know what more we can do.

GREENE: At this point, wildlife officials say it's wait and see. There's no plan in place if Mink makes it back. They're just hoping she'll lay low in the woods.

For NPR News, I'm Britta Greene in Hanover, N.H.

(SOUNDBITE OF MINUS THE BEAR'S "ANDY WOLFF") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.