Whether we're talking human beings or large mammals, there's one biological rule which remains true throughout the entire animal kingdom; a mother will do anything they can to protect their children. In fact, these creatures will often do just about anything to make sure their cubs are kept safe and out of harm's way. Even if that means destroying anyone that threatens their family. Although we are told to stay away from bears to keep ourselves safe, this group were about to find out they might not have a choice. Would they be able to make it out the other side?
You probably wouldn't want to be confronted with any wild animal which perceived you as a threat to its children. If you had to, though, a wild bear would be pretty close to the bottom of your list of preferred candidates. They can be savage, and they have fearsome strength.
When a group of brave fishermen encountered some bear cubs which were in danger of drowning, though, they didn't have a choice. It was either get close to the mother, or watch the children drown. How did the mother react to getting help from humans? Read on to find out!
Allow us to set the scene for you. This story starts in the freezing outback of Russia. Specifically, we're in the northwest of the country in a place called Lake Vygozero. This isn't somewhere you'd want to dive off your boat and go skinny dipping.
At its coldest, the water temperature here can sink as low as -4 Fahrenheit. It is, however, an excellent spot to go fishing. Wherever there are fish swimming around in fresh water, there will often be bears. Lake Vygozero is no exception.
If you don't have any bears close to where you live, they can be a spectacular sight - so long as you keep a safe distance from them! The fishermen who star in this story were no strangers to bears. They'd seen plenty before. There was something different about these bears, though.
The mother was leading her cubs dangerously close to the lake's frozen surface. It seemed she had no sense of danger. She was probably just looking for fish to feed her family.
It was almost immediately apparent that the mother had made a serious miscalculation. She walked too far across the lake without her cubs. Her cubs were still too young to swim as powerfully as their mother. As the water grew colder, and the current stronger, they clung to her for dear life.
The more her cubs clung to her though, the more rapidly the mother was tiring. It was no longer clear she could make it all the way across. She would soon have a dreadful decision to make.
If you've ever seen a nature documentary - or seen bears in real life - you might know how this situation would normally work. The mother would take the babies on her back, and complete the swim.
This wasn't a normal situation, though. The mother went against what most of us would call maternal instincts, threw the cubs off her back, and attempted the crossing alone. It looked like an act of extreme selfishness; sacrificing her cubs to save her own life. It made for very shocking viewing.
Even without her cubs, the mother was clearly finding it a struggle to battle against the current. She gave up on making it to the shore, and changed direction. In the middle of the lake was a tiny island.
If she couldn't reach the shore, she could at least make it there, and get herself out of the freezing water. The mother set off toward the island as fast as she could. Without her, and unable to swim, the cubs had been left to fend for themselves.
It's important that we don't apply human emotions to this situation. Bears are not humans. We don't know that they have the same emotional responses that we do. The primary rule of the animal kingdom is to preserve your own life, and survive at all costs.
As soon as she sensed that she was downing, this mother's primal urges might have kicked in. None of this would have been much comfort to the cubs. They couldn't swim, and so they had literally no chance of survival alone in the water.
Although they couldn't swim, the two little cubs had quickly figured out one survival tactic. If they thrashed their paws around fast enough, they would stay above the waterline - even if they weren't going anywhere. That bought them some time, but didn't buy them much hope.
They couldn't see or hear their mother anymore. They also couldn't see their way to the island. As far as they were concerned, she'd vanished without a trace. They were helpless and hopeless.
Today, however, was the cubs' lucky day. They and their mother hadn't been the only things out on the lake that morning. The whole scenario was being watched closely from a nearby fishing boat.
Having seen that the cubs were alone and in trouble, the captain redirected the boat and headed for the scene. He wasn't just going to watch this happen. The cubs had probably never seen a fishing boat before, though. Would they accept the help?
Even though the fishing boat was moving as fast as it could, it might already be too late. Every second counts in freezing water when you're trying to save a life. As the boat closed in on the struggling cubs, they were fading from the world.
They'd stopped making noises, and their frantic paddling was slowing down. The fishermen weren't sure if they had arrived in time to help - and they didn't have any bear-rescuing equipment on board either.
The fishermen, who had all encountered bears before, knew there was more to worry about than just the cubs. The mother was still in the water near the island. Although she'd seemingly abandoned her cubs, there was still a risk that her protective instincts would kick in.
The fishermen didn't want to come under attack from an angry adult bear. This rescue mission needed to be enacted with precise timing. They had to save the cubs without inviting the ire of the mother.
With the seconds ticking by, the fishermen tried to work out the best way to proceed. Should they just charge in? Should they wait for the mother to get to the island? They needed a strategy for dealing with the bears if they dragged them on board, too.
Nobody on the boat knew how to care for a bear. They couldn't even be sure they wouldn't try to attack. Suddenly, they got a desperate invitation. One of the exhausted cubs was trying to climb aboard.
The bear trying to haul itself up the side of the boat was a call to arms for the fishermen. Clearly, the animals wanted their assistance. Although the cub could get a paw on board, it didn't have the strength to haul itself up and out of the lake.
It was stuck there, close to safety but still slowly freezing to death. Simply grabbing the animal's paw and pulling it aboard didn't seem like a good idea - but they did have plenty of fishing equipment around them. Perhaps that would help?
As anyone who's had a near miss with a bear will tell you, it's not just their claws you have to worry about; it's their razor-sharp teeth. Normally, a bear's powerful teeth would be something to be wary of, but the fishermen realized that they might be the key to survival here.
When the cub became too tired to hold on using its arms, it bit the boat and used its teeth to stay afloat instead. That's when the fishermen had an idea.
Much of what we know about this rescue mission comes from the captain's written report. The captain was an experienced sailor by the name of Ruslan Lakanin. From Lakanin's diary, we know that the atmosphere on the boat was tense.
He and his men had agreed they had to act, but they had serious concerns. They knew that if they got too close to the mother, it was their own lives which might have required saving. These were brave men.
Any lingering doubt they had about completing their mission disappeared when the cub made eye contact with Lakanin. He could see the desperation and fear there. The conditions were making this rescue mission extremely difficult. The water had made the fur of the cubs extremely slippery.
A combination of wet fur and tired limbs made any attempt to pull or haul the cubs in over the side fruitless. They had to find another way, and they didn't have very long to do it in.
The first idea the fishermen had was probably the same one that anyone would have had in this scenario - use a fishing net to pluck the cubs out of the water.
It's a nice idea in theory, but that's not what fishing nets are for. Nobody ever designed a fishing net to cope with the weight of a bear, and nor do bears understand what they do. The bear didn't seem to grasp the idea of grabbing onto the net, and the net wasn't able to take the weight anyway.
We don't imagine bears have ever spent a long time talking to humans, and so the nuances of the human voice are lost upon them. The fishermen did their best, though.
In the same way that a pet owner talks to a scared or distressed dog, the fishermen tried to calm the nerves of the bear by speaking to it in gentle tones. They were telling the bear that they were there to help, but did the bears understand? More importantly, did the mother understand?
Because we keep referring to the cubs as babies, we might be doing them a disservice. The word 'baby' suggests something tiny. Bear cubs are not tiny. A full-grown bear - one the size of the mother - can weigh close to 1500lbs. These cubs were nowhere near fully grown, but they were still large.
To add to the problem, their fur was heavily soaked by the water, and so they had water weight to deal with, too. Something powerful was needed to help them out.
The issue on the boat was that there wasn't anything more powerful. It was a fishing boat, and all they had was fishing equipment and manpower. If that was all they had, though, then they decided they were going to make it work.
They reinforced the net, put it back in the water, and all joined together to pull. This time the little bear cub helped by climbing into the net. It was like it finally understood what they were trying to do.
With the cooperation of the stricken cub, they succeeded in their mission. They had a bear cub on the boat! There was no time to celebrate, though. For this whole time, the other cub had stayed stranded out in the water.
It was either too weak or too suspicious to make it to the boat. The men were exhausted from their efforts, but they were still only halfway done. It was time to turn their attention to the other bear.
The fishermen had an advantage this time. They knew they had a method that worked, and so they didn't have to waste their time trying to work out the best plan of action. Compared to the level of effort that was required to save the first bear, bringing the second on board was easy.
They were both very cold, but for now, they were safe. Now came the really difficult part; what were they supposed to do with their unplanned passengers? And what should they do about the mother?
Bears might not be able to speak, but they can still communicate through body language. It was clear that even though they were out of the water, the bears were uncomfortable. They were shivering and trembling.
Part of that was because of the cold, but it was also easy to tell that they've never met humans before. The humans may have rescued them, but the cubs had no way of knowing what would happen to them next. They were so nervous they couldn't even look at their saviors.
It wasn't just the bears who were a little nervous. The fishermen had never been in this situation before either. All they knew about bears was to stay out of their way! Keeping hold of the bears wasn't an option.
They were clearly agitated, and as they recovered from the cold, they might become aggressive. Handing them back to the mother might be even more dangerous, though. It would mean heading straight for her. She could easily interpret that move as a sign of aggression!
Ultimately, the fishermen decided it was a risk they had to take. These cubs belonged to their mother, and they had a duty to reunite the family. In all the excitement of rescuing the cubs, the mother had disappeared from view.
Fortunately, one of the fishermen had been keeping an eye on her, and knew she'd made it onto the island. Strangely, though, there was no sign of her now. Was she still on the island somewhere? If she wasn't, what on Earth were they going to do with these cubs?
In an ideal world, they would have been able to get close to the island, and put the cubs in the water for the mother to take. That would have been the safest route. Because the mother was nowhere to be seen, they couldn't take that chance.
Dropping the cubs back into the water was as good as drowning them if she wasn't there to help. The other option was to pull right up to the island, get off, and put the cubs on the land.
Leaving the boat and putting the bears on the island was the most dangerous way forward, and everyone knew it. They were leaving themselves wide open to attack. The captain made his decision.
They were just going to have to be brave, and do it. There was no other way to ensure the cubs would be safe. They took the cubs to an area of woodland on the island, and they set them loose. All the time, they were nervously glancing back over their shoulders.
By this point, many of the fishermen felt like they'd bonded with the cubs. They were almost sad to see them leave the boat, but they knew it was the right thing to do.
Although some bears do grow up in zoos, the best place for bear cubs to be - especially cubs this young, is with their mother, in their natural habitat. At least they had the photos and videos they'd taken to remember them by though - and it was about to go viral!
Before long, millions of people from around the world knew the story of the mother bear and her stranded cubs. The fishermen were being hailed as heroes by people they'd never met. The lack of an ending still has some people worried, though.
What if the mother bear had left the island? What if she never did find her cubs? None of us can be certain of what goes on in nature, but a mother's instinct is strong. Everyone hoped that the family had been reunited.
What can we learn from this story, then? Actually, lots of things. The first, and most important, is that we should never turn our backs on people who are in need. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for the fishermen to ignore the situation and just carry on fishing.
Every second they didn't spend fishing, they were losing money. Sometimes, though, money just doesn't matter. There are more important things in life. Sometimes, we have to remember just to be kind.
The second thing we should all learn is that sometimes, we have to go against our instincts. Everything these men knew about bears told them to give these cubs a wide berth. They couldn't have known how the cubs would react to their rescue attempt.
They had no way of knowing the mother wouldn't attack them on the island. They did what they did anyway. Logic shouldn't always rule our heads. There's a time and place to think with our hearts.
We should also remember not to judge mothers. It would be easy to view the mother of the cubs as cowardly, or cruel, but we can't apply human standards to animals. Earlier on, we talked about primal instinct, and primal instinct is a very powerful thing.
If you ever find yourself in a survival situation, you might be surprised what your instincts tell you to do. We don't think she stopped loving her cubs for a single moment. She just did her best to stay alive.
Not only should we not judge the mother, we shouldn't assume that she wasn't right about the situation. For all we know, she might have made a risk assessment, and come to a terrible conclusion.
We know she was slowing down and tiring. The fishermen had seen it with their own eyes. What if she thought she was putting he cubs in danger? She might have worked out that if she and the cubs stayed together, they would all have died.
No matter what the fishermen were feeling (which we know about), and how the mother was feeling (which we don't), our first thoughts should be for the cubs. Out of all the people involved in this tale, they were the ones most in need of help and support.
They were also the most scared. We don't know if animals feel fear in the same way humans do, but we know they definitely experience it. These poor cubs were terrified.
The real power in this story is that the fishermen and the bear cub did the same thing in order to work together. They overcame their fear. The cubs were afraid of drowning, and afraid of the humans.
The fishermen were afraid of the cubs and their mother. None of that mattered in the end. The moment the boat captain's eyes met that poor, struggling cub's eyes, fear was forgotten. A connection had been made, and the fishermen acted out of love.
The fishermen will never forget their experience with the bears. Each of them has a memory that will stay with them for the rest of their lives. As for the rest of us; we should learn to be more like them.
We shouldn't turn our backs when there's danger. We shouldn't run away. Whenever someone is struggling, and they really need your help, remember one thing; we always save the bears. Go forth, and be great fishermen!