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Bear recovers, but Toyota doesn't

A 250-pound black bear has surprised observers by recovering from injuries suffered in a collision with a Toyota Camry that damaged the car so badly it was totaled.

The bear was part of the ongoing research of Ely bear expert Lynn Rogers and carried a radio transmitting collar.

It's estimated the car was traveling at about 60 mph, and the bear hit it square in the middle of the front end. After the accident, Rogers found the collar -- broken off the bear from the July 10 collision along Minnesota Highway 169 between Tower and Ely. But the bear, named Braveheart, was nowhere to be found.

A sheriff's deputy took the time to search the area to see if Braveheart might be suffering, with thoughts of having to dispatch the wounded animal. But he could find no sign of the bear.

"I assumed she was a goner. I mean, if you look at the car, there's no way,'' Rogers said, noting the 1996 Camry's front end was smashed.

But last week, five weeks after the accident, Braveheart reappeared. Rogers walked up to the 6-year-old bear that he has been working with since it was a cub.

"I felt her all over, and the only place she pulled away was the right rear leg, so that was still hurting," he said.

Rogers fitted Braveheart with a new radio transmitter collar, and she's back in the woods -- one of 10 bears that Rogers' team is tracking as part of a long-term bear behavior study that has brought Rogers international attention.

Chris Marshall of Plymouth, Minn., was driving the Camry about 10:30 that night when the bear bolted across the highway.

"I had a bruised shoulder from the seat belt, but I'm fine. ... It happened so fast," he said. "I saw an outline of the bear and boom, it hit. There was no way, not for a second, that I thought that bear could survive. Not as hard as it hit.''

The accident was part of a busy year for Rogers.

• In June, a big male bear that was mating with Rogers' research bear named June was shot in Eagles Nest Township.

It's not clear why the animal was shot. A Minnesota conservation officer investigated, but no one has been charged. The male bear, named Big Harry, survived the rifle shot that pierced its back just above the backbone.

"He bled a lot, but it (the bullet) went in and out. He survived, but he stopped mating after that. He never came back to her,'' Rogers said.

Braveheart, Big Harry and June had been filmed by a BBC television team for an upcoming documentary.

"The coverage by the BBC is going to be very positive for our area and all we have to offer around Ely. ... But it's a shame, because the shooting will not look good,'' said Rogers, who helped found the North American Bear Center in Ely.

• Earlier in the year, Rogers' research survived a critical review by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which had considered not issuing Rogers the permits he needs to study wild bears. Rogers is considered controversial by some wildlife managers because he studies bears by feeding and befriending them, fitting them with radio collars by acclimating the bears to him rather than by using a tranquilizer gun and sedative. In the end, the DNR, based on outside review by independent biologists, opted to renew the permits for 2008.

• In April, Rogers learned that a bear the DNR had trapped and moved to a Michigan game farm last winter had died during hibernation. Solo, another bear in the research project, was removed from an area of cabins where it had been hibernating, apparently because some neighbors complained.

Bear hunters in the Ely area and across northern Minnesota are being asked by the DNR not to shoot any radio-collared bears, although the state has not yet made it illegal to shoot collared bears.