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Chimpanzee expert Goodall backs Lynn Rogers' bear work

By John Myers

Forum News Service

ST. PAUL -- Independent bear researcher Lynn Rogers got a vote of confidence this week from Jane Goodall, the famed African chimpanzee researcher.

Goodall sent a letter to Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton saying she backed Rogers’ bear research near Ely and urging the governor to allow Rogers to continue his work.

Goodall is widely considered to be the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees. She is best known for her decades-long study of social and family interactions of wild chimpanzees in Tanzania, Africa. She is the founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and has supported conservation and animal welfare issues worldwide.

Dayton’s administration, through the Department of Natural Resources, has sought to restrict Rogers’ work involving hand-feeding and befriending black bears, as well as his use of video cameras placed in bear dens.

The DNR said Rogers’ work falls short of scientific research and may be habituating bears to human contact, making them more unpredictable and possibly dangerous to the public.

Rogers counters that his work is indeed basic research on bear behavior and serves to educate thousands of people about black bears through social media — people who otherwise would know little about the north woods animal. Rogers and his bears have thousands of followers on Facebook and the website for his nonprofit Wildlife Research Institute as well as the North American Bear Center he helped found in Ely

The DNR moved in late June to end much of Rogers’ field work. But in late July he won a reprieve, with a court-sanctioned agreement with DNR officials that will allow him to continue putting radio collars on up to 10 bears and to place non-public cameras in two bear dens. The agreement will hold until Rogers’ case challenging the DNR comes before a state administrative law judge, likely late this year or early 2014.

Under the compromise, Rogers agreed not to hand-feed bears except to replace, charge or maintain batteries on radio collars.

In the letter to Dayton, dated Aug. 8, Goodall noted that she has “known Dr. Lynn Rogers and his work with black bears for many years. His is one of those rare long-term studies where each successive year makes the whole that much more valuable. Like chimpanzees, bears are long-lived individuals, each with his and her own personality. Long-term research in which individuals are known allows one to ask questions that are not possible in short term or ecological studies. I believe it would be a scientific tragedy if this research, conducted by a scientist who truly cares about his subjects, is brought to an untimely close.”

The letter goes on to note that “research on the Gombe chimpanzees is now in its 54th year, and we are still learning completely new things. Just as Dr. Rogers and his team are still learning new things about the bears. I very much hope that the plan of closing down this research can be dropped. Science will not benefit else, nor will the bears.”

Matt Swenson, a spokesman for the governor, said they had not yet received the letter and declined further comment, noting that Rogers has opted to pursue the case through the administrative law judge process.

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