When a mother bear was faced with a dilemma, she did the unthinkable. In a desperate moment, she made an alarming decision, sparking the beginning of her cubs' journey toward survival. Here's her story.
A Frozen Lake
Our story takes place by Lake Vygozero, near Russia's border with Finland. The terrain surrounding the lake is quite beautiful, but its freezing climate can become unbearable during the winter season.
As the lake freezes over during the harsh winter and a thick layer of snow covers every inch of the landscape, the region begins to become problematic -even for some animals. One of these poor victims was a mother bear, who was faced with a problem that left her behaving very strangely.
A Life-or-Death Situation
Surviving in the wild means making quick and clever decisions when put in life-or-death situations. And although humans rarely find themselves having to make choices they'd never dreamed of, for animals, being put under these circumstances is, unfortunately, a lot more common.
This mother bear found herself in such a situation when she became stuck on frozen land with her two freezing cubs huddled beside her. She feared for the lives of her babies and knew the only way to save them was to cross a nearly-frozen lake to safely get her cubs to the other side.
She Had No Other Choice
The mother bear knew it wasn't going to be an easy task, but she had no other choice. The harsh winter made it difficult for her to find food on that side of the lake. Bears normally feast on fish or berries, but neither of these options was available in the extremely harsh temperatures of the winter season.
Knowing there was no food for herself or her two cubs, the mother knew she had to get her family to the other side of the lake. And she realized there was only one way to do it - carrying her offspring on her back, she had to swim in its freezing-cold waters.
Into the Freezing Water
There was no other way around it. The mother bear carried her two cubs on her back and plunged into the icy water. The lakefront was just visible on the other side, and the mother bear gathered every ounce of strength she could to swim across and reach it - but would her strength alone be enough?
From the moment she and her two babies were in the water, the mother bear began to swim as fast as she could. She had known the journey would not be easy. But with every paddle, her mission seemed more and more impossible - and her fear of not reaching the other side of the lake became increasingly overwhelming.
The Panic Begins
Normally, when children are in danger, their parents are expected to act as selflessly as the situation would require to ensure their kids' safety. So we probably would have assumed this mother wouldn't give up on getting her cubs safely to the other side of the lake, no matter what it took.
But, out of pure panic, the mother bear did something completely unexpected of a mother. Deciding that the only way to survive was to continue the journey alone, she dropped her cubs into the water and continued to swim forward. The poor cubs were abandoned.
Struggling to Stay Afloat
Left all alone in the freezing water, the cubs struggled to stay afloat. However, being so young, the two tiny bears didn't know how to swim. And unfortunately, they were put to their first test in the middle of intense winds and freezing temperatures.
And, worst of all, their mother was nowhere around to save them, in case they failed. These young cubs had always relied on their mother to be there to protect them. For the first time, and in such dangerous conditions, this sense of security had suddenly been taken away from them.
Fighting Against the Current
All eventually went as planned for the cubs' mother, who made it safely to the other side of the lake. But the harshly cold water wasn't as kind to her two babies, who paddled helplessly in the freezing lake. They were losing all hope, and no one was there to save them.
As their muscles grew tired from all the effort they were making to keep their heads above the water, the two cubs were becoming exhausted. Not only that, but their bodies were beginning to give in the insufferable cold temperature of the icy water. What would they do?
Down the Stream
No matter how much effort they exerted into paddling, the strength of the tiny cubs was, unfortunately, no match for the force of the lake's current. The water pushed the two animals downstream, away from the safety of the shores and the protection of their mother.
As the water carried the two cubs downstream, they began to panic. Not only because they saw themselves being moved farther and farther away from the stable landmass, but also because of where they saw they were headed. To their horror, something less than friendly was waiting for them.
A Mysterious Sighting
As they moved away from the shore and their mother, they could hear something noisy in the distance. They could tell it wasn't another animal, but it was something they had never heard before. The two cubs probably felt frightened, not knowing what awaited them in the mysterious waters.
Although the cubs didn't know it yet, it turns out the noise was coming from a fishing boat that was cruising the lake. Onboard were two Russian fishermen, who would soon be close enough to spot the two struggling young bears. But the question was, would they be friends or foes to these poor animals?
Making Their Way to the Boat
Fortunately, it wasn't long before the two young cubs noticed the boat. Although it's unclear why they decided the boat was a safe place to swim to, it apparently appeared to be something much more stable than the terrifying waters. And it was then that the cubs decided to start swimming towards the boat.
Paddling with all their might, the two siblings began to make their way toward the fishing boat. With the help of the current, the cubs came closer and closer to the boat, and the fisherman soon caught sight of the two small bodies making their way towards them.
A Cry For Help
As soon as they spotted the two young bears, the fishermen realized this wouldn't be just another ordinary fishing day for them. The sight of the struggling creatures presented the two men with a sudden dilemma they weren't aware they would be encountering that day.
The two fishermen soon realized that the young bears were in trouble and were quite literally fighting for their lives against the merciless force of the current. And, to their horror, the men realized that these animals were all alone, with their mother nowhere to be found.
What Could They Do?
The two fishermen almost immediately recognized that the cubs would soon be too exhausted to continue their fight. The urgency of the situation made the two men realize they had to do something to save the cubs - who they realized could drown in the lake within minutes.
But their decision wasn't without some hesitation. They couldn't see the young bears' mother anywhere and assumed there was no way she could be close by and not help her cubs. But the two men couldn't completely eliminate the possibility she could be nearby and witness the two men get so close to her babies.
Where Was the Mother?
The possibility that the mother could be within a few seconds' distance terrified the two fishermen. Since mothers are usually very protective of their precious children, anyone who dares to come close probably shouldn't be surprised if a mother bear attacks them.
But an attack by the cubs' mother wasn't the only thing stopping them. The two men were also unsure of how the cubs themselves would react to being so close to humans. They assumed that these creatures had never seen humans before, and their fear could possibly turn into aggression.
Helping the Cubs
After a few moments of uncertainty, the men deemed it unforgivable not to at least try to help the poor babies. They began to put their plan into careful action, getting their boat as close as possible to the cubs, moving slowly so as not to frighten or harm them.
As it turns out, the two bears needed little convincing. One of them took initiative in grabbing the boat and trying to pull himself on board. His brother, seeing him do this, attempted to do the same thing. But would their attempts be met with success - or would the siblings plummet back into the icy water?
Were They Strong Enough?
Ideally, the two fishermen wouldn't need to make any physical contact with the wild animals. So when they saw the bears attempt to climb the boat on their own, they felt relieved. But these creatures were so tiny, it was unclear whether they would be able to climb the boat without any help.
The bears, weakened by the efforts they had exerted in paddling across the unforgiving lake, didn't have enough strength to pull themselves up. Realizing this, one of the fishermen took matters into his own hands, grabbing a fishing net to pull the bears up. But unfortunately, the attempt was unsuccessful.
All it took was a small discovery for the bears to help themselves climb onto the boat. Although the bears probably didn't know it yet, they had incredibly powerful jaws to help them survive in the wild. One of the two brothers soon realized he could grasp the side of the boat and pull himself up to safety.
With their teeth pulling their body weight towards the boat, the poor bears' tired limbs were relieved of the task of paddling to keep them from drowning. But even with the help of their strong jaws, would the bears be able to escape the dangers of the frigid lake?
An Emotional Bond
The bears seemed unlikely to complete the mission on their own. Determined to help the animals, the fishermen began to aid the bears in climbing onto the boat. As they did so, one of the fishermen caught a look of trust and appreciation in the eyes of one of the bears. The connection was instantaneous.
Motivated by the feeling that they had made the right decision, the two fishermen on the boat hurried to help the animals with the tough task. They seemed to suddenly feel a rush of empathy for them and knew that they couldn't let these bears drown.
One Last Try
The rush of motivation also gave the fishermen confidence that they could successfully help save a couple of lives that day. With the bears holding onto the boat steadily using the power of their jaws, the fishermen decided to give the fishing net another try.
The net provided them with the means to give one of the cubs a much-needed push out of the water and onto the boat. The result was complete success! One of the bears was finally safe on the small boat, and the other was just one more push away from his brother. But then came the question they hadn't thought of: what comes next?
Wild Animals on the Boat
Having two bear cubs onboard a small boat in the middle of a freezing lake wasn't exactly the ideal situation for the fishermen to be in. After all, these young wild animals had probably never met humans before in their lives - who knew what behavior they could possibly display when frightened?
Fortunately, the cubs seemed to be feeling relief more than anything else since the boat had rescued them from the unbearable cold of the waters that almost killed them. Still, the question still stood: what were they going to do with two young bear cubs aboard a fishing boat?
Shocked and Shivering
When the bears first made it onto the boat, they had just practically escaped death after being abandoned by their mother, who was supposed to protect them. The two fishermen noticed they were still in a state of shock and seemed harmless. So, the men stayed calm and kept a safe distance.
After some time had passed, the men decided to take a closer look at the cubs. Unfortunately, but probably as expected, they weren't doing well. The bears were shivering, probably from the cold, but possibly also from fear. The two fishermen wondered what on Earth they could do to help these poor creatures.
The Safest Option
The fishermen felt such sympathy for the two motherless animals, who had suffered a great deal to reach safety. They couldn't imagine the fear these cubs had experienced, lost in the lake, on the verge of drowning, with no one around to save them.
Concerned with returning these bears to their natural habitat that felt so comfortable and familiar to them, the men thought hard about what to do. And the idea then came to them: what place in the world could feel safer for these young cubs than right by their mother's side?
Searching For Mom
The two fishermen set out to find the cubs' mother, making their way toward the land that surrounded the frigid lake. Being so familiar with Lake Vygozero made the two Russian men feel confident they had an idea where the mother bear could have set up camp.
The mama bear surely abandoned her children purely out of survival instinct and would feel a great deal of joy and relief to be reunited with her beloved babies. After all, mother bears have a strong connection to their cubs and would do anything in their power to see them survive, right?
The Mother's Reaction
But to say that the fishermen were certain they knew how the mother would react wouldn't exactly be accurate. They didn't know how the wild animal might behave if she saw her cubs being carried to her by two humans. It could possibly be quite a dangerous situation to be in.
A whirlwind of thoughts and feelings surrounded the situation, as the fishermen were uncertain of so many things. Would the mother welcome her cubs back without being aggressive towards them or the fishermen? Would the two men even be able to locate the cubs' mother?
Looking for A Sign
As they were still pondering the situation, the two fishermen finally reached the island they had been heading toward. Stepping carefully out of the boat, they searched the ground for footsteps or any other sign indicating the possibility that the mother bear had been in the area.
They waited carefully and quietly, fearing that any sudden movement could cause a possibly-watching mother to misconstrue the motion as an attack. Several minutes had passed, and the mother was still nowhere to be found. The fishermen thought of the poor cubs, who were probably still overwhelmed with fear without their mother.
After some time had passed, with no sign of the mother anywhere near, the fishermen lost all hope of reuniting these babies with their mother. They decided it was best to take the two siblings into the island, where they could safely drop them off away from the water.
Each of the two men picked up a cub, and the two made their way with the helpless creatures into the island. After walking a while, they finally decided it was safe to put the bears down. The cubs then did something astonishing - and totally unexpected.
An Unexpected Moment
The young cubs, who were helped to safety after nearly being killed by the harsh waters of the freezing lake, had apparently formed a special bond with their saviors. When the fishermen tried to put the cubs down, the animals appeared reluctant to let go!
The bond was not one-sided: the fishermen were also quite sad to leave the baby bears. However, knowing they did the right thing brought them comfort, and they watched the two bears walk away, presumably in search of their mother. Thankfully, the fishermen had a camera that recorded their adventure with the cubs on the boat.
Wild Bear Behavior
Although the mother's behavior towards her children in the middle of the freezing lake seems heartless and selfish to humans, it's been observed time and time again in the wild. Abandoning one's own children would probably never seems like an option to a human, but to an animal, it's a survival instinct.
The mother bear in this story realized that saving herself was the only way she could guarantee her children survived as well. So, she did what she had to do. And while it's true that there have been some documented cases in which mother bears consume their children, there's a survival explanation for that as well.
Surviving in the Wild
A few reasons have been observed for why a female bear might harm her offspring. A National Geographic story published in 2014 explained that a mother will consume her cubs if they were born unhealthy or significantly deformed. In other cases, a mother bear will consume her cubs if food is scarce.
"They become a resource, one she can't afford to waste…" a mammal curator explained in the published article. Other cases include when a cub dies unintentionally. In this case, the mother will immediately consume the body, not only for food but also to keep away potential predators. But a question arises: do males eat their cubs?
What About Father Bears?
Unlike the females, male bears don't have a strong connection to their children. In fact, most of them can't even tell their own offspring apart from others! Because of this, cubs have a much higher chance of being attacked by their fathers than their mothers.
For this reason, cubs have no choice but to cling to their mothers for safety in the first stages of their lives. Although there's no guarantee that their mothers won't attack them, it's still much less life-threatening than being around their fathers. But this has us wondering, do male bears offer no protection at all?
Eurasian Brown Bears
Known across North America as grizzly bears, Eurasian brown bears inhabit most of the European and Asian continents. Years ago, they could even be found in more southward regions. These wild animals are no friends to people, and are known to be highly dangerous.
It's quite likely that the young cubs that were saved by the two fishermen were Eurasian brown bears. Knowing how dangerous these animals are, the two fishermen were probably very lucky the cubs' mother wasn't around when the four of them reached the island together!