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Working with orphaned baby bears, not a single year is uneventful.

The current year 2018 has not been an exception. Early in the morning on March 13, we received a call from a resident of Dashkovo village in Toropetsky District (Tver Oblast). In a voice that sounded worried, he informed us about a little bear, apparently in its second year of life, which he spotted not far from the village, near the old pigsty. Its mother was not seen anywhere around the place. March was still in its first decade, and for Central Russia, it was too early for young
Brown bears cannot stand low temperatures for a long time without risking of having their paws frost-bitten
bears or females with their offspring to emerge from the winter dens. It could only be guessed what brought this bear cub so far away from its home at such a time. The weather was frosty and snowy, and brown bears cannot stand low temperatures for a long time without risking of having their paws frost-bitten. And here, a little baby bear was lost in the snow!
Three specialists of the Orphan Bear Rescue Сenter loaded a snowmobile, sledges and a cage, as well as darting equipment and first veterinary aid kit into the trailer, and the team headed to Dashkovo. From our long-term experience dealing with wild animals we knew that wild forests somehow tend to protect their inhabitants. And that was what happened this time. In the area where the village is located, fresh snow covered the ground at night! Snow cover on the crust was soft and thin, but it was enough of it for experienced trackers to detect the pugmarks of the little bear.

The snowmobile, sledges and cage were uploaded, the equipment for the immobilization prepared. The team got in the snowmobile and set out to look for the bear tracks. However, there were no any bear pugmarks on the snow around the old pigsty where the cub was observed. No pigs had been held in the building for a long time, but the scent of them persisted and could presumably attract the bear cub. But on the second field located farther from the village, the team discovered a faint, hardly visible line of the little bear pugmarks! After a short discussion, it was decided not to use chemical immobilization for the capture of the bear because of the uncertainty about its weight. The drug administered with the use of remote injection equipment could be harmful for the health of the baby bear. Leaving the snowmobile and its driver at the edge of the field, two other members of the team began their scrupulous and measured work on deciphering pugmarks left on the gracious newly-fallen snow.
Sergey Pazhetnov and the caught bear
Following the line of pugmarks, the trackers passed through a grove and walked toward the neighboring hayfield where hay rolls hunched under the caps of snow. A perfect place for a lonely cub to stay overnight! The snowmobile was called on the radio. As soon as it approached the hayfield, a bear cub suddenly appeared from under the last hay roll and started moving to the forest in small sluggish jumps! The head of the Center Sergey Pazhetnov who also arrived in the field made a split-second decision – they would follow the fleeing bear on the snowmobile!
If the cub had reached the forest and climbed a tree, the team would have to go on following him until late night. Catching up with the bear, Sergey jumped and grabbed the cub by its skin. He used the proven professional technique, putting his right hand between the ears of the animal and his left hand on its low back. Then, he just lifted the bear into the air; in this position, a bear cub would spread its legs helplessly and calm down, unable to do any harm to the catcher. The bear cub was brought to Bubonitsy village were the Orphan Bear Rescue Center is situated and placed in the quarantine cage set in the forest far from human settlements. The weight of the poor creature was critical; the cub weighed only 12 kg. Without timely help he would shortly die from frostbite and exhaustion.

There are only three possible reasons why a bear cub of this age could be straying in the forest, out of its maternal den at such an unsuitable time. First, its mother could have been killed by poachers, while the cub was lucky to escape. Second, a human could approach the den, which would scare the female bear making her ran away and abandon her offspring. In such cases, if two or three cubs in their second year of life winter with their mother, they usually stay in the den and survive through the winter. But for a single cub, the loneliness could be unbearable because bears are highly social animals, so the young could come out of the den to look for its mother. And, finally, the rarest case: a large male bear could attack the mother and baby bears. To our knowledge, there has been only one case of such attack, where a wounded female bear saved her life by climbing up the nearest tree, and her cubs were eaten by the male. The juvenile bear could have run away and left alone, doomed to die. Probably, its den was located several dozen kilometers away from the place where it was rescued by our team.
In different years, the quarantine cage where the cub was kept had served well as temporary holding facility for bear cubs that were being prepared for the release into the wild. The orphaned cub turned out to be male and was named "Lucky", as he really was the lucky one not having been chased by a wolf but spotted by a kind man and brought to the Orphan Bear Rescue Center. We exercised extreme caution when we started feeding the cub. Lucky was given small portions of easily digestible food because large amounts of solid foods could be lethal for the starved animal.
In our region, young bears and females with their offspring emerge from their dens in the first decade of April. It was decided to release Lucky at that time. At the appointed date, a team of veterinarians from Moscow Wildlife Hospital arrived at the Center. When people approached the cage, Lucky hastily hid in the shelter and stayed there, keeping quiet. It was a pronounced reaction of the fear of humans. A real wild animal! The veterinarians carefully immobilized the cub who now weighted 23 kg – a good result for a bear in his second year of life after the wintering period. Then the vets thoroughly examined the bear, checked his pulmonary and cardiac function, teeth, ears, and eyes. Lucky was absolutely healthy. After the morphometric measurements were taken, Lucky was fitted with the ear tag with a unique ID number. When all the procedures were completed, Lucky was transported to the place that offered the most beneficial environment for bears in spring. The transport cage was put on the ground, the door opened. A long line of fir trees spread in front of Lucky, and this time, there was no metal mesh between the young bear and wonderful forest. For a few seconds the cub stood frozen in disbelief at the far end of the cage. But then, there suddenly came a loud sound of hard claws scratching the floor, and our lucky bear literally flied out of the cage in one long jump. A short and unforgettable moment which could never become a part of everyday routine for the specialists of the Center… Every release is always like the first one, and every time it is a joy!

Shooting forth along the snow-covered clearing like a black drop, Lucky flew into the forest and disappeared. We can only hope that the days full of sorrow and fear will be followed by peaceful and less adventurous years and that the name will serve Lucky well.

The bear returned home, to the forest. The rescue team went back to Bubonitsy village where they had a lot of work to do. This winter, six more orphaned bears were admitted to the Center for rehabilitation.

We would like express our sincere gratitude to all people who care for wild animals.