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Rose Hart's OutSide

Solo, the one-eared Black Bear and her two cubs made news early last month when it was reported by the Duluth News Tribune they were hibernating in the crawlspace of a seasonal cabin owned by a woman of Waite Park, MN.

Advocates for the bears petitioned Governor Tim Pawlenty just before Christmas to commute the death sentence imposed on the three "too-friendly" bears by the Minnesota DNR. As the story developed, on January 11, it was discovered by DNR Conservation Officers that the three bears were awake, outside the cabin, and evidence clearly showed they had been pepper sprayed in the crawl space. Then on Monday, January 14, Minnesota DNR officials, assisted by staff of the Forest Lake-based Wildlife Science Center, captured the bears and took them by truck 500 miles to Oswald's Bear Ranch in the Michigan Upper Peninsula.

Although the Black Bear is most reknown hibernating mammal in Minnesota, there are lesser known hibernators; snakes, ground squirrels, bats, shrews, woodchucks, chipmunks, racoons, skunks and hamsters. Not surprisingly, Minnesota Universities are at the forefront of current studies on the mechanics of hibernation and how those mechanics might benefit human medical treatments: recovery from strokes, travel to Mars, free-radical repair, metabolism, fat digestion enzymes, rmuscle proteins, preserving organs for transplant, and studies in contrasted longevity.

The most extreme longevity example is the Brown Bat; although it is similar in size and closely resembles a field mouse, the bat hibernates for six months, sleeps daily in a torpor and may live over twenty years. The mouse's comapratively brief life span is two years, it is also more suceptible to cancer; contrasted with the longest living hibernating rodent, the naked mole-rat, that is virtually immune to cancers.

Humans lack the necessary hibernation "switches", although we may believe ourselves in a torpor this time of year. But local research on real hibernators may bring genuine, beneficial human medical advances.

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