He looked on in distress as the young bears struggled to keep their heads above water. Their mother was now far away, completely unable to help them.
And he was no more than a simple fisherman, who just happened to be witnessing this agonizing event by sheer coincidence. This sort of thing probably occurs in nature all the time, he thought. But as he heard the panicked cries of the cubs, he decided he had to help. He turned to his friend and began to hatch a plan.
AN ORDINARY FISHING TRIP
Moscow-born Ruslan Lukanin had not gone to the lake that day to take part in a wild adventure. All he and his friend wanted was to spend a nice, relaxing afternoon fishing and having some drinks.
But, with Lake Vygozero having an area of 1,250 km2 and over 500 densely wooded islands, it’s safe to say that anything can happen. And, sure enough, he and his friend soon became spectators to the ruthlessness of nature.
SOMETHING IN THE WATER
As Ruslan and his friend fished, they suddenly spotted three creatures in the water. It was a mother bear and her two cubs, swimming along trying to cross the lake. This in itself was not an unusual sight, as bears are extremely common in the Russian wilderness.
But soon the men realized something was not right. As the mother swam confidently toward one of the islands, her cubs were starting to struggle. Ruslan and his friend could not believe what they were seeing.
FIGHTING THE CURRENT
It was a windy autumn day, and the current in the lake was strong. Before long, the mother bear and her cubs were drifting farther and farther apart. And, though female bears have a strong motherly instinct, it’s safe to say she was thinking of her own survival.
So she trod along and continued toward the island, while her cubs struggled to stay afloat. The two fishermen were faced with the very real possibility of watching the young bears drown. Ruslan decided it was something he couldn’t allow to happen
Ruslan didn’t want to approach the cubs while their mother was still within reach, fearing she might turn around and attack them and their boat.
But as the seconds ticked along, he and his friend watched the cubs become more desperate. Finally, he decided that the mother was at a safe distance. He and his friend steered the boat toward the cubs, slowly as to not startle them. But, to their amazement, it seemed as though the young bears knew this was a lifeline.
RUNNING OUT OF TIME
As soon as Ruslan’s boat was within reach, the cubs started to swim toward it. The closer they were, the more he realized how exhausted the young bears already were.
They would not be able to stay above water for long. But he didn’t know how to actually get them on the boat, or whether it would be safe for him to do so. The cubs, though, didn’t wait for him to make a move.
TRYING TO CLIMB ABOARD
One of the cubs paddled close enough to the boat to put his paws on the side. But he kept slipping as he couldn’t get a strong hold to propel him onto the deck.
That didn’t mean he was going to stop trying, though. Ruslan and his friend watched in amazement as the cub gripped the side of the boat with his teeth. Meanwhile, they were trying to figure out how to help him on board. A promising idea came to mind.
The men decided to use their fishing net to help push the cub onto the boat. But it would be no easy feat — a soaking wet bear cub was infinitely heavier than the fish the net was designed to hold.
But this was their best chance, so they had to try. Ruslan jumped into the water while his friend took the net and slowly slid it under the cub’s bottom, hoping to scoop him up and propel him over the side. Then, an incredible thing happened.
The cub turned toward the men and looked straight at them, seemingly acknowledging their efforts to help. He struggled and grunted as the net slowly raised him higher, all the while Ruslan spoke to him in a calm, hushed voice.
“We’ll rescue you, don’t be afraid,” he said to the bear. He wondered aloud whether the cub would bite them, to which his friend replied, “He won’t, he’s just clinging on for his life.” Then, finally, the miracle occurred.
HAULING HIM ONBOARD
With the help of the fishing net, the cub made it onto the boat at last.
Though the men had worried he’d attack them in fear, it was clear this young bear was too tired to do anything except lie where he had landed. But the fishermen knew their work was not done yet — the other bear cub was still in the water. Luckily, they knew what to do.
GOING BACK FOR THE OTHER CUB
Armed with the knowledge that their fishing net was strong enough to support the weight of a young bear, the men confidently scooped up the other cub as it continued to struggle to stay afloat.
They deposited him next to his brother, then stood there for a minute letting what they had just accomplished sink in. Then, it was time to decide what to do with the young critters.
WHERE WAS THE MOTHER?
Ruslan and his friend knew that the best chance the cubs would have to survive was to be reunited with their mother.
Even though she’d left them to fend for themselves in the lake, she’d probably be happy to have them back. So the fishermen headed toward the island that she had swum to. But it remained to be seen whether they’d actually find her.
The men dragged their boat ashore and cautiously looked around, hoping to catch a glimpse of the female bear. However, she was nowhere in sight.
Meanwhile, the cubs themselves didn’t seem to be in a rush to find her. They stayed inside the boat, too weak to get up and walk away. Ruslan and his friend knew there was only one thing they could do.
TAKING THEM TO THE FOREST
Though they had been reluctant this whole time to get too close to the cubs, the fishermen knew they would need help getting out of the boat and into the forest. So, with the utmost care, they picked them up once more and transported them to the edge of the trees. They left them there and sailed away, hoping their mother would find them.
As they watched from the boat, a hulking figure emerged from the treeline. It was the cubs’ mother! She looked at the men as if to thank them, then they all trotted back into the bushes.
Footage of the cubs’ rescue was shared on YouTube by Russian media outlet RT. The video quickly went viral, amassing almost 200,000 views in a few months.
When interviewed, Ruslan was asked why he and his friends took such a risk. “It was dangerous, of course,” he said. “But they are living creatures. We couldn’t just look the other way.” Would you do the same thing?