Mink the bear, who roamed Hanover with cubs and was once pardoned by Gov. Chris Sununu, found dead

  • Hanover Deputy Fire Chief Michael Hinsley, holding a metal detector he used to search for possible bullet fragments, stands over the spot on a gravel bar in the Mascoma River in Lebanon where Mink the bear was found dead. Hinsley and Andrew Timmins, leader of the Fish and Game bear program, agreed that Mink was likely hit by a car within the last two weeks. After hearing from New Hampshire Fish and Game that there was a lack of activity on a tracking collar worn by Mink the bear beginning about a week ago, Hanover Deputy Fire Chief Michael Hinsley found the bear’s remains on a gravel bar in the Mascoma River in Lebanon on Tuesday. After the remains were taken to the Kilham Bear Center in Lyme to be examined, Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Hanover Deputy Fire Chief Michael Hinsley, right, and New Hampshire Fish and Game bear project leader Andrew Timmins transfer traps to Hinsley’s vehicle after searching for Mink the bear’s cubs near the Mascoma River and Old Pine Tree Cemetery Road in Lebanon on Tuesday. A lack of activity on a tracking collar worn by Mink the bear alerted wildlife officials that she may have died about a week before. Timmins is encouraging anyone who has sighted bear cubs in the area near the river and Boston Lot to contact the wildlife division of New Hampshire Fish and Game at 603-271-2461. Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Mink the bear is seen in the woods behind a home in West Lebanon on June 27. Bryan Marquard

  • 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)

  • Wildlife biologists Justin Sutherland, of USDA, left, Andrew Timmins, of New Hampshire Fish and Game, middle, and Nancy Comeay, of USDA, look over a map before beginning their search in Lebanon, N.H., Tuesday, August 25, 2020, for the cubs of Mink the bear, who died after likely being hit by a car. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com James M. Patterson

  • A pair of bear claws lie on a gravel bar in the Mascoma River on Tuesday, where Mink the bear died. Valley News — James M. Patterson

  • Mink, a black bear spared by Gov. Chris Sununu in 2017 and relocated in 2018 to northern New Hampshire, returned to West Lebanon this year with three new cubs, seen in April near Mink Brook, about a mile from downtown Hanover. Bryan Marquard photograph

Valley News
Published: 8/26/2020 1:15:08 PM

Mink, the black bear sow who roamed, charmed and at times chewed through neighborhoods in Hanover and Lebanon with several litters of cubs, has died, authorities said on Tuesday.

Her body was found Tuesday morning near the Mascoma River in Lebanon, not far from Old Pine Tree Cemetery Road, and wildlife authorities searched several hours into the evening for her latest round of cubs. They had hoped to find the trio, born in late January, and send them to the Kilham Bear Center in Lyme where they would spend the winter.

“We searched quite a bit of the area,” said Andrew Timmins, the black bear project leader for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, who said it was unlikely the cubs had wandered beyond Mink’s home range in Lebanon and Hanover. “We’re going to be relying on reports, hoping people get some sightings of them.”

Mink, who was once pardoned by Gov. Chris Sununu, was in her teens and weighed more than 200 pounds. She had been outfitted with a tracking collar two years ago, and wildlife experts who followed her movements remotely had noticed that she hadn’t appeared to have moved for “multiple days,” according to Timmins.

Timmins asked Hanover Deputy Fire Chief Michael Hinsley, who had kept a close and cordial watch on Mink’s movements in town, to investigate, and he found Mink’s body near the Mascoma River. Lebanon firefighters helped carry the bear’s remains out of the woods and Hinsley took it to Lyme.

Hinsley, who had spent dozens of hours watching Mink over the past five years, thanks in part to training by bear expert Ben Kilham, said Mink appeared to have suffered a broken foreleg and he surmises she died after being hit by a vehicle.

“This bear was a pretty incredible animal, but nature is always amazing,” Hinsley said.

Timmins also said the location, not too far from Interstate 89, made him think Mink had likely died after being hit by a car.

“I believe it was a motor vehicle strike,” Timmins said. “I was worried that maybe she had been shot, but I really don’t feel it’s the case.”

Named for the Mink Brook Nature Preserve south of downtown Hanover where she often denned and foraged with her cubs, Mink drew national attention in 2017 when she and three yearlings scavenged for food in neighborhoods less than a mile from the Dartmouth Green, diving into dumpsters and knocking over trash cans.

Two of the cubs even entered a home on Thompson Terrace through a sliding door on a deck, prompting wildlife authorities to recommend that the family of bears be destroyed because they were too acclimated to food sources from humans.

Instead, after a public outcry, Sununu intervened, and her three juvenile cubs were relocated to northern New Hampshire. One of them was shot and killed in Quebec within weeks of the move.

Mink remained in the Upper Valley and gave birth to four more cubs in early 2018. But after she began training them to search for food from Hanover-area homes, those cubs were rounded up in June of that year and taken to the bear preserve and rehabilitation center run by Kilham and his sister Phoebe in Lyme.

Mink was tranquilized, outfitted with the tracking collar and exiled to the woods of northern Coos County near the Canadian border. But, relentlessly, she traveled thousands of miles, often in large circles, and made her way back to the Vermont side of the Upper Valley by late 2018, and denned up that winter in Pomfret.

She was spotted in Woodstock in April 2019, and eventually returned to Lebanon and Hanover, though with no cubs that year.

But she emerged this year with yet another litter, three cubs this time, and was often spotted in a neighborhood in West Lebanon off Route 10 near Mink Brook and Sachem Village. Hinsley said the tracking device indicated that her home range went from woods near Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital in downtown Lebanon to land near Kendal at Hanover, north of downtown Hanover near the Connecticut River.

“It’s unfortunate,” Timmins said of Mink’s death. “She was a pretty neat animal.”

He also said Mink had “done well” not to have been hit and killed earlier by a vehicle, given her territory in the heart of the Upper Valley. He said Mink likely had eight to 10 litters over the years and appeared to have been hit by a car, but not seriously injured, two years ago.

Despite the fact that Mink had a new litter of cubs this year, Timmins said the family was “not a big problem this summer,” which he attributed in large part to Hinsley’s efforts to educate Hanover residents about putting away bird feeders and securing other food sources.

Even with Mink gone, bear sightings in Hanover are likely to persist. One juvenile bear spent two hours in the crook of a tree behind Parkhurst Hall, home to the Dartmouth College president’s office, one afternoon last month, and Hinsley said several of Mink’s daughters now have established themselves in the area.

“This bear has died, but multiple generations of her cubs still live in Hanover, in Lebanon. We still need to be very careful on attractants we put out and their impact on the animals,” he said.

Anyone who may have recently seen the cubs in the Hanover/Lebanon area was asked to call New Hampshire Fish and Game’s Wildlife Division in Concord at 603-271-2461.

News staff writer John P. Gregg can be reached at jgregg@vnews.com.

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