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")
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