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Orphaned Jackson bear cubs rescued, 'in excellent shape'

By John Koziol
Union Leader Correspondent

November 10. 2015 10:54PM
Ensconced high up for safety but also for a better view, bear cubs that were recently orphaned when their mother was shot by a hunter in Jackson eye some human visitors Tuesday at Ben Kilham's rehabilitation facility in Lyme. The cubs are in great shape, said Kilham, and will be released sometime next spring. (John Koziol)

LYME — Although they lost their mom, a quartet of bear cubs is doing well and their future is bright, says Ben Kilham, a biologist and rehabilitator known as “The Bear Whisperer of Lyme.”

Kilham took custody of the cubs last week from the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, which had captured them in Jackson. The cubs, believed to be almost 11 months old, are in “excellent shape,” Kilham said on Tuesday. They will stay under his care until their release next May or June.

Andy Timmins, who is the state’s bear biologist with Fish and Game, has said that the mother bear and her cubs started coming into Jackson this past spring, where they were celebrated by community members as the “Jackson Five.”

Timmins thinks that gradually, however, and possibly through a combination of direct feeding or a failure of residents to bear-proof their properties, the mother bear became habituated to human beings and may have attempted to break into several residences in search of food.

In October, a hunter, acting within his rights under state law, shot and killed the mother bear even though she was with cubs. Concerned that the cubs, with a taste for human food, might eventually share the same fate, Fish and Game decided to find and bring them to Kilham.

At around the same time, Donna Ellis — whose parents Barbara and Leon Brown live just outside of Jackson, in the Bartlett village of Glen — set up a GoFundMe.com page, seeking to raise $5,000 to cover the cub’s rehabilitation.

As of Tuesday, almost $1,800 had been raised.

Ellis, who lives in Manchester but whose family has lived in the Jackson area for some 70 years, said Tuesday that she is working on legislation that would require hunters to pass on both a bear mother with cubs as well as the cubs themselves.

Ensconced high up for safety but also for a better view, three of the recently orphaned Jackson bear cubs eye some human visitors Tuesday at Ben Kilham’s rehabilitation facility in Lyme. (John Koziol)

She said she was happy that the orphaned Jackson cubs were with Kilham, who, over the past 23 years, has rehabilitated and released 130 bear cubs.

She thinks construction of a water line last August, not the desire for human food, drove the mother bear to behave erratically and be deemed a nuisance. But she agrees with Timmins and Kilham that “a fed bear is a dead bear.”

On Dec. 4, Kilham, who is seeking a doctorate in environmental sciences from Drexel University, will defend his doctoral thesis; its premise is that female black bears are reciprocal altruists. Black bears are fascinating, said Kilham, and “they may be better models for our earlier behavior than the great apes.”

Like human beings but unlike other animals, bears will regularly communicate and cooperate with strangers, he said, and they are decidedly social, too.

After having given some 500 lectures, during which he warns about the consequences of feeding bears, Kilham is hopeful that people will understand that “humans create the nuisance situation and the bears merely respond to it.”

“Unfortunately,” said Kilham, people “love them to death.”

For more information, go to https://www.gofundme.com/ay8wmknw

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