Search for Mink the bear’s wayward cubs continues as cause of death changes

  • Fans of Mink, the black bear sow whose body was found in Lebanon earlier this week, are selling this bumper sticker to benefit the nonprofit Upper Valley Land Trust, Hanover Conservancy and Kilham Bear Center and their efforts to protect wildlife. The website also wants to raise awareness about the bear's three missing cubs. Courtesy image

  • Mink the bear is seen in a yard on Gilson Road in West Lebanon, N.H., just south of the border with Hanover, N.H., on May 9, 2020. (Bryan Marquard photograph) Bryan Marquard photograph

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/28/2020 9:34:04 PM
Modified: 8/28/2020 9:46:57 PM

LEBANON — Wildlife officials are still hopeful that they might round up the three missing cubs of Mink, the black bear sow whose body was found on a gravel bar along the Mascoma River on Tuesday morning.

Although Mink had been dead for several days, authorities learned of three separate cub sightings on Thursday and set up two game cameras and some doughnuts, among other attractants, to help with their capture.

“We placed a little food at each location, which will help hold the cubs there if they discover it. I think we will be successful but it will take some time,” Andrew Timmins, black bear project leader for New Hampshire Fish & Game Department, said via email on Friday. “It appears that the cubs have split up and are traveling separately.”

He said the cubs would now be 8 months old and weigh between 25 and 35 pounds. Normally, bear cubs stay with their mother until they are about 18 months old, but Mink’s cubs would have the inherent knowledge to den up now if need be, he said.

Mink was famous as the mother to several litters of cubs whom she took through residential neighborhoods in Hanover and Lebanon, looking for food. At one point, wildlife authorities planned to destroy the sow and an earlier set of cubs because they had become too habituated to human food sources, but Republican Gov. Chris Sununu intervened and they were spared.

She drew further attention — even coverage on National Public Radio — when she found her way back to the Upper Valley in 2018 after being tranquilized and transported to the wilds of northern New Hampshire, near the Canadian border.

Authorities earlier this week said they thought she might have died after being hit by a car, both because of the location of her body, not far from Interstate 89, and because it looked like a foreleg might have been broken.

But a gross necropsy performed Thursday at the Kilham Bear Center by Georgina Voegele, an anatomist and instructor at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College, found that Mink’s body, though decomposed, was intact and that she had not suffered any broken bones or been shot, according to Ben Kilham, the Lyme naturalist who assisted with the procedure.

“She had not been hit by a car,” Kilham said late Friday, and the necropsy also revealed Mink to be older than suspected.

“Her teeth were as worn as much as I’ve ever seen on a bear,” said Kilham, who estimated that Mink was between 20 and 30 years old, and possibly older. Black bears can live to be 40, and a more exacting examination of rings on her teeth, akin to counting tree rings, will yield a more precise age, he said. Kilham said it’s likely Mink died of natural causes, but “we’re still going to pursue other causes.”

The bear’s death has attracted widespread comment across the Upper Valley. Several people affiliated with Friends of River Park in West Lebanon have now created a “Mink Wuz Here” sticker and poster that they are encouraging Upper Valley residents to post to honor the bear. The stickers are available for $5 apiece from a website, and all proceeds will go to the nonprofit Kilham Bear Center in Lyme, the Upper Valley Land Trust and the Hanover Conservancy.

Kelli Pippin, who serves on the Friends of River Park board, called news of Mink’s death “disheartening.” The stickers are intended to celebrate the joy the bear brought people and also benefit conservation groups “that care about keeping the Upper Valley attractive for creatures like Mink to live in,” said Pippin, who lives in West Lebanon near Mink Brook.

“Mink was a local legend and a lot of people loved her,” Pippin said. “So many of us enjoyed coexisting with her.”

The stickers will also be available at a “Trails and Trucks” event at River Park, which features food trucks and an introduction to hiking trails along the Connecticut River, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Hanover Deputy Fire Chief Michael Hinsley, who worked to protect Mink and to encourage residents to put away bird feeders and secure trash, said via text on Friday that a number of property owners where Mink roamed are keeping an eye out for any sign of the cubs, and that he hopes they can be found before falling victim to predation or being hit by a car.

Hinsley said that the search for the cubs in recent days has also shown that the bear family had feasted on an unnatural feeding ground this spring and summer.

“It is clear that Mink has continued to enjoy a lot of unsecured garbage, based on the volume of bags of garbage that litter the woods behind a number of dumpsters,” Hinsley said.

Staff writer John P. Gregg can be reached at or 603-727-3217.

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