Animals certainly don’t have it easy – their constant struggle for survival has been well documented, and, as such, stories about them overcoming hardships are incredibly touching. This is especially true when humans are involved in helping them.
In this story, two fishermen in Russia transcended the barrier between humans and nature when they came to the rescue of two bear cubs that were in serious danger after being abandoned by their mother.
This story begins at Lake Vygozero, one of Russia’s most northerly parts near the border with Finland. During the winter months, the area becomes hazardous due to the lake freezing and the surrounding areas being covered by a blanket of snow. The temperatures in the water can drop as low as four degrees below zero, so it’s really freezing.
As such, people avoid visiting during this period – but animals cannot afford that luxury. They have to survive the elements and brace themselves for anything nature might throw their way. This was the exact case for one mother bear and her cubs, and their story is one that has melted the hearts of people all around the world.
It was one such winter’s day that the mother bear desperately needed to cross the almost-frozen lake with her two small cubs to reach safety. Being stuck on a single spot of frozen land just wasn’t viable. That’s not a good position to be in when you have to care for two cubs and find something to feed them.
There wasn’t enough food, and something just had to be done. It was always going to be a challenge, but no one was prepared for what actually happened. Despite her best efforts, the mother bear’s plan did not go quite as expected. And this is why this story is a truly remarkable one.
Seeing no other choice, she threw both cubs onto her back and dove into the freezing cold water. The land she was trying to reach was visible to her, and, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, brown bears are known to be strong swimmers. We don’t know how cold the water was that day, but it was certainly freezing.
But with the weight of two bear cubs on her back and sub-zero temperatures, it was no simple task – and it was unclear from the beginning whether she really stood a chance at getting them both across to safety. As a mother, she trusted her instincts, but this was a matter of physics as well, which seems to have eluded her.
Swimming as fast and as hard as she possibly could, the determined mother bear tried to cross the lake with all her might. But facing winds and strong currents, she began to grow tired long before her mission had been completed. Nothing was going according to plan, and the mother bear was rapidly losing her strength.
The moment of realization came when the mother bear knew that the three of them would not make it. Out of sheer panic, she did something that goes against all natural maternal instincts: something that no one would expect a mother to do, but she did it anyway because the situation was desperate.
While many animals would give their life for their offspring without a second’s thought, this mother bear decided that her only chance of all three surviving the crossing would be to get her cubs off her back and continue alone. It’s definitely not a decision that she took lightly, but it was probably the only escape she could see at the moment.
At that moment, she began to shake her cubs until they both fell off her back and into the icy water. Freed from the weight, she continued to swim toward the other side of the lake. The cubs’ fate was hanging in the balance and could definitely go either way.
We can only assume that the mother bear had hoped her cubs would be healthy enough to swim across the lake themselves – but, unsurprisingly, they didn’t cope well with the conditions. Perhaps they were too little and unaccustomed to swimming in sub-zero temperatures or simply too weak to go further.
Learning to swim in a state of panic while battling roaring wind, freezing water, and rapid currents isn’t ideal, and the two cubs were struggling to keep their heads above the water. Meanwhile, their mother was nearly at the shore but hadn’t even looked back to check on them. Her maternal instinct was frozen at this point, and she didn’t seem to care about the cubs anymore.
The current tossed the cubs’ small, weak bodies around relentlessly, and they just weren’t moving toward the shore at all. In fact, they soon began to drift away from it, and the situation looked dire for both of them. It was a matter of life or death, and their fate hung in the balance.
The mother bear, on the other hand, had now reached the safe side of the lake but seemed to be completely unfazed by what was happening to her cubs – despite the fact they were losing strength and close to succumbing to the water. In her defense, there was nothing she could actually do at that point but watch her cubs drown.
The cubs, now in the middle of the lake, were completely taken by the current and began to drift downstream. However, this was to be the turn of luck that they needed so desperately. Soon, they’d catch the attention of another living thing that could help them. And it was, indeed, the cubs’ lucky day.
In the distance, there was something large and noisy in the water – and the current was pushing the cubs directly toward it. When all had seemed so nearly lost, they were about to receive help from the most unlikely of sources. It was just one of those “right thing at the right time” situations, and the cubs were at the receiving end of it.
The mysterious object, as it turned out, was a fishing boat with two Russian fishermen on board. It wasn’t long before they noticed the bear cubs and soon determined that something was seriously wrong. It wasn’t something that you see every day, and the fishermen were intrigued.
But what could they do – how do you react to two struggling bear cubs in the water? Would it be too dangerous to try and help them? But that wouldn’t matter to the cubs – they were solely concerned with getting out of the water, and it was only a matter of time for them to spot the boat that looked like it could be their salvation.
It wasn’t long before the cubs noticed the boat – even though it’s doubtful, they had a clue what it was. This was obvious because they both began paddling as fast as they could toward it in a race for their life. It was moving, it was there, and it was their only chance, so they decided to grab it.
Their luck had turned yet again. This time, the current was working in their favor and pushing them toward safety instead of away from it. Seeing this, the fishermen knew that they were going to have to do something – but what? Their options for helping the cubs were limited, but they started to think fast.
It had been a pleasant day for the two fishermen so far. They had intended to spend their time catching fish, talking, and taking in the serenity of the lake. Now, the bear cubs in front of them presented them with a dilemma that could be potentially dangerous, not just for the cubs that were clearly in distress, but for them as well.
Gasping for air and swinging their paws in panic, it was becoming harder and harder for them to keep their heads above water. With literally no one else around, the men realized they had to do something – or they would die. One thing was certain — they wanted to do everything in their power to save the little ones.
There was one much bigger issue than the potential danger the cubs posed: their mother, who, at this point, could be seen hanging around the side of the lake. Although the fishermen were, of course, unaware she had abandoned them earlier, they were still wary. No one can tell how a wild animal will react in a situation like this, so the fishermen decided to be cautious.
Female bears are known for being extremely territorial – and very protective of their cubs. There was just no telling what she would do if she thought the fishermen were trying to hurt her babies. This made them second-guess their plan. They didn’t want to risk their lives to save the cubs.
But that was only momentarily, as there was simply no time to lose. They would just have to take the risk of the cubs reacting badly once they were brought onto the boat with two humans. The fishermen decided that they would simply have to deal with the mother bear’s reaction later. It was a problem to deal with after the cubs had been brought to safety.
Beginning the rescue operation, the two brave fishermen moved their boat as close to the cubs as possible while they considered the best way to go about pulling them onboard without hurting or scaring them in any way. It’s not as if they could talk to them to encourage the little ones to cooperate to be rescued quickly.
But before the fishermen could make a move, the cubs took matters into their own paws. One of them grabbed the side of the boat and attempted to climb in on its own, and the other followed suit. They were working as a team, and that definitely worked in their favor.
This presented the fishermen with an ideal situation: maybe they wouldn’t have to physically touch the bears for them to make it out of the freezing water. It seemed like the perfect solution. Unfortunately, however, the cubs just weren’t strong enough. They tried to do it on their own, but the entire ordeal proved to be too much for their little bodies.
After struggling in the water for so long, the cubs were extremely weak and just weren’t able to pull themselves up out of the water and into the boat. The fishermen had to think fast – what on earth could they use to help the cubs? It was not just that they didn’t have many options available, but they also needed to think super fast.
One fisherman grabbed the nearest thing – a fishing net – and attempted to haul the first bear into the boat. Unfortunately, however, whether it was due to the angle or the sheer weight of the cub, it didn’t work. The little cubs couldn’t be fished out of the water, they were way too heavy for that.
Ultimately – and somewhat surprisingly – the solution lay with the bear cubs themselves. Still struggling against the current to keep its head above the surface of the water, the first bear tried clenching its teeth against the side of the boat to hold itself up. That was an idea that proved to be the Hail Mary they so desperately needed.
It worked! Like many other mammals, bears have incredibly powerful jaws that help them hunt and eat – but also much more! Luckily, one bear realized this in the nick of time, and it was to be the saving grace for both of them. The other one soon followed suit, and they managed to rest for a bit that way.
The bears were able to rest their weary arms and legs by maintaining a strong bite on the side of the boat, but it was unclear whether this would be enough to actually save them. Their bodies were still suffering, and it was only a matter of time until they would have to give up.
The fishermen suspected this wouldn’t be enough and felt they had to do more to help, but they needed to act fast – and they were still very wary of being so close to such a strong, notoriously dangerous wild animal. Yes, the bears were still cubs, but this doesn’t mean that they couldn’t be unpredictable, so the fishermen tried to keep their distance as much as possible.
It was then that one of the fishermen experienced a profound moment with one of the cubs that he later described as an “emotional bonding moment.” He found himself eye to eye with the cub and felt as though there was a mutual understanding between them. This is not something that you expect to happen in a situation like this, but the moment was a defining one for the cub’s life.
It was as though the desperate cub knew the man only wanted to help, and the fisherman felt that, because of this, he would not be harmed in the process. It was clear that the decision to save them was the right one. The cub knew that he would be safe on the boat.
It was time to make one last effort to get them on the boat – and now that they were holding onto the boat and staying relatively still, the fishermen were confident they would be able to do it. It was only a matter of logistics now.
Once again, using the fishing net, they began to push the first cub from behind. The fishermen were constantly encouraging and trying to soothe the cubs during their efforts to get them out of the water. The cubs didn’t look too scared, and they did their best to cooperate during the rescue process. The fishermen, on the other hand, did their best to soothe them.
In the camera footage of the incident, which was later released, the fishermen can be heard talking to the cubs as if they were children, saying, “Don’t be afraid, just don’t be afraid. We’ll rescue you, don’t be afraid.” While it’s obvious that the cubs couldn’t understand what was being said, talking to them surely helped them feel safer.
It wasn’t easy by any means, but, miraculously, the first cub was lifted into the boat. The second followed closely. Now, both of them were successfully out of the icy water. But the ordeal wasn’t over yet. Getting them to safety on the boat was just the beginning of the rescue process.
In a state of shock, the two bear cubs sat in the corner of the boat, shivering and gasping for breath. The fishermen tried to remain calm, but having two loose bears – cubs or not – on their boat was terrifying. It’s definitely not something that you can get trained for, so it’s understandable they were at a loss there.
For the bears, who had likely never encountered humans before in their lives, it was also a daunting experience, and it was unclear how they would react. Could this heroic rescue turn incredibly dangerous? At that point, it looked like the story could have gone either way, but fortunately, nothing bad happened in the end.
Thankfully, though, it seemed that the bears were just relieved to be out of the freezing water and in a place of safety. It was as though they were totally aware of just how close they had come to die in the water. They were trying to gather their strength before deciding what to do next.
Neither cub showed any sign of wanting to harm its rescuers, so the fishermen felt no threat and, therefore, began to relax and formulate the next stage of the rescue operation. Both parties seemed to be happy to move forward, working together.
The fishermen knew that the priority was to get the bear cubs back to land and set them free. Ideally, they wanted to find their mother – who, by this point, had disappeared – and release them back to her. But would they be able to find her? They weren’t sure, but they decided to try and reunite the little ones with their mother.
Luckily, they knew Lake Vygozero exceptionally well and had a good idea where the mother bear might have gone. Heading toward the island, they kept a lookout. But they had to remember that with a mother bear came potential danger, so they needed to act super carefully and plan their every move.
While the fishermen were certain that the mother bear would be glad to be reunited with her two cubs, they were unsure how she would react to seeing them with humans. This made them nervous, and they knew they’d have to act with extreme caution. After all, there have been lots of stories about mother bears becoming super protective of their cubs to the point of attacking humans.
Bears naturally see humans as a threat – and this is always heightened when cubs are involved! And fully grown Eurasian brown bears can be deadly …Plus, let’s not forget that bears go very hungry in the dead of winter, so the fishermen were, indeed, right to be cautious.
The fishermen decided that they’d take the risk, as they had to do whatever they could to help the cubs – after all, the bear has historically been a symbol of Russia and a great source of pride for the Russian people. Moreover, they felt like they had already connected at an emotional level with the cubs.
Furthermore, there were no guarantees that they would even be able to find the mother bear anyway. They finally reached the island on which they suspected she was. Whatever lurked there, the fishermen were dead set against just leaving the cubs there on their own. So, they decided to take their chances and look for the mother.
Stopping on the shore, they began to search for bear trails or any sign that the mother bear could have recently passed through the area. They didn’t see anything. They also scanned the woods in the distance, but, again, there was no sign of the bear. The fishermen didn’t know if she was lurking somewhere or if she was gone for good.
The cubs had to be missing their mother by now, and the fishermen grew uncertain of what they should do next. It was too dangerous to go wandering around the island because if they disturbed the bear, it could prove fatal. They didn’t want to risk that, so, once more, they decided to proceed with caution.
The fishermen decided to wait at the shore for a while, but after some time passed, there was still no sign of the mother bear. There was no other choice – the cubs would have to be left there. It wasn’t their first choice, but the fishermen decided that their safety was important, and they couldn’t risk being ambushed by the mother bear.
The fishermen lifted the bear cubs in their arms and made their way onto the island – all the while keeping an eye out for the mother bear in case she suddenly appeared. Then, something happened that truly touched their hearts and made this story a heartwarming one for everyone.
When they reached the island, they tried to put the cubs on the ground. Astonishingly, the bears were reluctant to let go! It seemed as though they had formed strong bonds with their rescuers after such an ordeal. They felt safe in their arms and weren’t willing to let go.
Maybe they realized that their mother had left them and feared they would not find her again. Possibly, they felt so safe with the fishermen after being rescued that they just didn’t want to leave their saviors. In any case, their fear of abandonment was surely at very high levels, so they decided to stick with the best thing that had happened to them in a while.
As adorable as the gesture was, the fishermen had to get them to let go – for obvious reasons. There was no way they could keep the cubs on the boat for longer – there was a danger that the shock would wear off, and they would turn aggressive. Plus, what do you do with two bear cubs in a boat anyway?
Eventually, the cubs let go of their arms and began walking toward the wood, presumably in search of their mother. It seemed as though they were almost sad to be leaving their new-found friends. Maybe they were also sad because they couldn’t repay the fishermen in any way for saving their lives.
The fishermen were sad to leave as well, as they also felt as though they had formed some kind of bond with the animals. Additionally, the fate of the cubs was unknown, and the fishermen worried about their safety. But they couldn’t take them with them, as bears are not the kind of pets that you rescue and bring home.
They knew they had done the right thing, however, and that there was nothing more they could do. Luckily, though, they had recorded the whole adventure on camera, so they’d be able to watch it whenever they wanted. It would be the kind of memory that lasts for a lifetime and definitely something to tell the grandchildren about.
This leads us to question the motives behind the mother bear’s seemingly ruthless act of abandonment. Although it might seem cruel to the human observer, it has been well documented that many animals – including bears – sometimes abandon their young if it’s necessary to remain alive.
We must remember that we can’t judge wild animals using human emotions or ideals. What might seem like a calculated, heartless decision to the human observer is really more of survival instinct for many animals. It doesn’t mean that the mother bear didn’t care about the fate of her cubs. It was just that, in that moment, her survival instincts were more powerful than her maternal instincts.
Quite simply, while crossing the icy water with her cubs on her back, the mother bear felt that the three of them had a better chance of survival if she shook them loose – so she did. It was not a matter of being a cruel mother. It was just a fact of life, and she acted accordingly.
It may seem shocking, but life in the wild is not always straight-forward – especially not for bears. In fact, these particular animals are known for going even further in their brutality. So this is not the kind of behavior that is unexpected for bears. They are also known to be very protective of their cubs in normal circumstances.
Both female and male bears are known to go so far as to even purposefully kill their young when it is deemed necessary. Again, it’s all about survival in harsh climates and difficult scenarios rather than a deliberate, unkind act. It’s important to distinguish this and not apply our emotions when it comes to scenarios like these.
This is a well-documented fact – although the reasons behind the killing differ for female and male bears. In the following paragraphs, we explore this strange, brutal behavior and examine the reasons behind it, so you can definitely see that the mother bear is not the villain in this story, as many people might initially think when they read the headline.
According to a story published by National Geographic in 2014, a wild mother bear will kill and eat her cubs if they are born unhealthy or significantly deformed. This has been confirmed by multiple wildlife experts. While this is shocking, it’s also just a fact of life in nature, and it shouldn’t be judged from the human perspective.
Another reason a mother bear might commit infanticide is if food is scarce – she will, quite simply, sacrifice her cubs for her own sake. “They become a resource, one she can’t afford to waste,” a mammal curator is quoted in the article as saying. The harsh life of a bear is filled with harsh decisions.
Also, if a cub dies unintentionally, the mother bear is likely to eat it immediately. In addition to providing her with more food, the act has the added bonus of avoiding a rotting carcass in her den, which will attract predators. So, the mother bear does it to protect the home, where she may also have more than one cub to think of.
This is just a part of the harsh reality for bears. Male bears, on the other hand, have different reasons for acts of infanticide. Without a strong paternal instinct, they pose a much greater threat to bear cubs than females do.
Male bears will gladly kill and eat cubs simply because they regard them as a good source of food. Shockingly, they will even kill and eat their own cubs without a second thought. This might sound very harsh, but, again, we need to remember not to judge animals from our perspective.
This is because male bears lack any kind of paternal instinct – that is, they feel no attachment to their own cubs. In fact, it is common for male bears to be unable to tell their own cubs apart from others. They didn’t give birth to them, so it’s impossible for them to have a real bond.
Consequently, bear cubs only have one real choice: to stay with their mother until they’re old enough and strong enough to defend themselves. Although they’re not guaranteed safety with her, it’s a much better option than going it alone. Going it alone means they could be killed and eaten by stronger creatures, sometimes their own fathers or other male bears.
Just because a mother bear will kill and consume her young in extreme circumstances doesn’t mean that she won’t nurture and care for and protect them in most instances – particularly when she feels they are under threat. It’s just a matter of doing what she thinks is best in the moment to protect herself and survive.
That means even fighting off male bears that are much larger and stronger than the mother bear. This isn’t rare, as there’s a likelihood that cubs will be attacked by their father if they enter his territory. Mother bears are not just a stereotype – they really do care about their offspring and protect them from danger when it’s in their power to do so.
Humans are also perceived to be a great threat to cubs, which is why the fishermen in this particular story were initially extremely wary of helping the cubs and trying to find their mother. Mother bears don’t think twice when it comes to killing humans to protect their cubs.
Proceeding with extreme caution was an incredibly sensible decision by the fishermen – especially as the bears were most likely Eurasian brown bears due to the location along the border between Russia and Finland. A female Eurasian brown bear can weigh up to 500 lbs., which is indeed not something you want to encounter in the woods.
Adept in surviving extreme climates, these shaggy-haired bears are known to be particularly unpredictable and aggressive in the face of a potential threat, so it’s probably a good thing the fishermen didn’t manage to find the mother! No one can say what could have happened if they had, and chances are they wouldn’t have lived to tell the story.
All in all, what could have turned out to be a terrible tragedy for two bear cubs and their mother turned into a heart-warming story of affiliation between two men and two wild animals. It just goes to show that we are not that different as species, and it is possible to connect at a certain level.
Placing their total faith in a species that would normally be regarded as an extreme threat to their safety, the bears were able to overcome certain death by drowning. Hopefully, they found their mother and got their happy ending. The little ones were so brave throughout the ordeal; they deserve a good home and care from their mother.