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Nora was the name of a bear cub that in 2008 arrived at the Orphan Bear Rescue Center from Novgorod Region
The Center is located in a sparsely populated village Bubonitsy of Tver Region. Bear cubs arriving at the Center for rehabilitation are given names that start with the letter referring to name of the place where each cub was found. For instance, Polya and Prosha arrived from Pskov Region, while Kira was found in Kostroma Region.
Bear cubs are given names that start with the letter referring to name of the place where each cub was found.
The orphaned bear cub that was found in February in Novgorod Region after the hunting season turned out to be female; we gave her the name Nora. Specialists of the Center were looking after Nora and other little bears until the cubs became ready for the release into the wild. In August 2008, when the cubs became much stronger, they were released into the wild in the areas where they were initially found before their arrival at the Center.
We left Nora in her enclosure for wintering in order to study her den building behaviour. Nora built a den and successfully hibernated. In May 2009, Nora left the enclosure and went to the forest on her own accord; it was a typical example of so-called soft release. The life of the female in the wild was unusual and her story may be interesting for scientists and many other people.

It should be noted that the method of raising bear cubs used by the Center for the subsequent release of the cubs into the wild includes soft release technique, where all bear cubs older than 7 months can leave the enclosure on their own at any time of the day. Before the release, they can acclimate to natural environment and develop their territorial behaviour and sense of direction.
Bright yellow labels marked all orphaned cubs, which the Centre releases to the wild
The year of 2009 had passed into history, new names of orphaned cubs were being entered in our record book, and then suddenly… a female bear with the ear tag, accompanied by three young of the current year was spotted in the surroundings of Bubonitsy village in the autumn of 2013. Such fluoroplastic ear tags of distinctive bright yellow colour are used by the Center for marking all orphaned bear cubs that are to be released into the wild. Each ear tag bears a unique ID number, which helps monitor individual animals.

The mother bear with three cubs was seen several times in summer and autumn of 2013 but disappeared by winter. In 2014, she and her three cubs in their second year of life showed up at the small swamp near Kosilovo village located 2 km away from the Center. The ear tag on the left ear of the bear indicated that it was the female that we observed last year.
Bears' mating season occurs in May through June. The cubs in the second year of life (yearlings) separate from their mothers to start leaving independently. A female bear finds a mate and gives birth to her next offspring while staying in the den in winter. We were looking forward to the spring 2015 in the hope to see "our" female bear with her new cubs, to no avail. The female did not appear either in spring or in summer, and we decided that she left familiar area or died.

Most wild brown bears die quite early. Specialists estimate the ages of bears using dental cementum layer aging technique. Data collected in the course of long-term sampling carried out in various regions of Russia have shown that the ages of bears that died from natural reasons or were killed by hunters varied 9-11 years, with rear cases when animals died at the age of 3-5 and 14-18 years. The oldest bears were two females shot by hunters; one of them (reproductive female) was killed in Tver Region in Central Russia at the age of 25 years, and the other one (non-breeding animal) was shot in Krasnoyarsk Region of Central Siberia when she was 36 years old. In captivity (e.g. in zoos), brown bears can reach 50 years of age. Average life-span of brown bears in the wild is 9-10 years.

Thankfully, our fears have not realized. In spring of 2016, the female accompanied by her three cubs aged over one year appeared on her favourite site, the small swamp in the forest. Brown bears are known to be very secretive, and it is indeed a great luck to see a wild bear in the woods. This encounter meant that like before, in 2015 the female gave birth to three cubs and managed to live unseen during a year.
Nora and 3 cubs in the frame of the photo trap
We suspected that the female was our Nora but were not sure if that was true. Orphaned bear cubs fitted with ear tags were released in our region and neighbouring areas including Novgorod, Pskov, and Smolensk Regions. Results of the long-time monitoring of released bears suggest the animals at the age 2-7 years may move away from the release site as far as 20, 90 and even 120 km. Therefore, there was a chance that the female bear released in a different region would appear in the territory where she lived in the past.
We could not make out the number on the female's ear tag covered in thick fur even through the powerful binoculars and decided to set up camera traps on the swamp and along the surrounding paths. All we could do was waiting. And our expectations were met and exceeded! Effective positioning of camera traps set up in April of 2017 helped obtaining the images of the female bear. And more than that, three cute balls of fluff, the cubs born in 2017, were stomping around the female. It was her third litter, and again, consisting of three cubs! This time we were able to read the ear tag number that was clearly seen on the photo. As expected, the female turned out to be Nora. Her story is not typical for orphaned bear cubs that have been rehabilitated at our Center.

Nora and all her three cubs were seen in April, August, September, and October of 2017.
Our observations have clearly confirmed that, similar to the wild brown bears, orphaned bear cubs that have undergone rehabilitation at our Center can establish pairs in breeding season, produce offspring, and keep their cubs alive during their first year of life. For us Nora's cubs were the most valuable reward!
Nora and her cubs, spring 2018
In 2018, we were lucky to see the whole family including Nora and her three cubs in March, April, and May, after the bears emerged from the den.
In the second decade of May, we obtained the last photos of Nora's family, and as soon as in a week Nora was snapped by a camera trap in the company of a large male bear, potential father of Nora's next offspring and, presumably, of her three previous litters.
We will continue our efforts to monitor Nora and will hopefully have some photos of our "graduate" with her fourth litter in 2019.
Female bears marked with our ear tags were also observed in other release areas, such as the Central Forest Nature Reserve and Bryansk Forest State Nature Biosphere Reserve where the activities have been carried out aimed at the restoration of the declining population of the brown bear through its supplementation with orphaned bear cubs from our Center.