This Baby Bear Was Stranded Alone By A River. Then It Found Safety In The Most Extraordinary Way

Separated from her mother and struggling for survival along the banks of a river, this young American black bear was in desperate straits. The baby cub was starving, and despite access to the cool river, possibly suffering from heat stroke. And not only did she need help, she needed the courage to trust those that would ultimately save her life.

The five-month-old cub had caused some serious confusion among Nolichucky River guides transversing the rapids near Erwin, Tennessee in early July last year. Normally black bears scamper deeper into the forest after humans spot them along the river. This little cub, however, was hanging out in the same place for several days.

“She was obviously malnourished and appeared to be in distress,” Matt Moses, owner of the company USA Raft, told Knoxville News Sentinel. “My guides kept coming back to me and saying they had no idea what to do. We didn’t want to see this bear die on the side of the river.”

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So Moses and the other guides continued to keep an eye on the little cub, hoping that the mama bear would return. But with every passing day, the cub was getting thinner and mama bear was nowhere in sight.

But even though the cub was getting weaker, her curiosity about the river guides was getting stronger. They, in turn, named the little cub Noli after the river. And soon, Noli was no longer climbing trees whenever the guides passed by her spot. Instead, she was wading out by the river’s edge to take a closer look.

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Indeed, each day whenever the rafters approached the bank, the little bear’s curiosity and hunger began to slowly overcome whatever natural fears she may have had about humans. “It would walk toward us at first. Then it swam out toward one of our rafts. Thursday, a guy from another rafting company pulled over and she got right in,” Moses said.

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The guy in question was river guide Danny Allen of High Mountain Expeditions. And Moses could scarcely believe his eyes when he saw the desperate bear climb into the raft.

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“We see bear fairly often, but we’ve never seen anything like this,” Moses said. “This is the first time I’ve ever heard of a bear getting in a raft.”

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Although grizzly bears have a fearsome reputation in North America, black bears are considered less aggressive. In fact most of the time, when a black bear charges, it’s only trying to scare the human. And when a black bear does attack, it’s usually in defense of its cubs. Typically, black bears simply ignore or even avoid humans. And that’s exactly what made this little cub’s leap of faith so incredible.

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Once back on solid ground over at Moses’s company property, the bear’s rescue team contacted the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, which quickly came and transported the little cub to the Appalachian Bear Rescue (ABR) organization in Townsend. Established in 1996, this non-profit rehabilitates orphaned and injured black bears, getting them back into shape for return to the wild.

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As soon as Noli arrived, ABR took her to the University of Tennessee Veterinary School for a thorough check-up. It was then that vets discovered Noli was seriously dehydrated and possibly suffering from heat stroke.

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After spending some time under medical observation and drinking lots of liquids, Noli began to recover her strength. And soon, she was healthy enough to return to the rehabilitation center at ABR, where it was hoped she would begin to integrate with other bears.

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Indeed, Noli’s appetite and health returned within only matter of days, according to the rescue center’s board president Dana Dodd. “She likes grapes and applesauce. Those things are great for her because they’re filled with water,” Dodd said.

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However, Noli still had a lot of growing up to do before she could return to the forest. In the wild, cubs usually stay with their mothers until they are 16 months old. But to help ensure Noli’s survival, the center wanted to keep the little cub in rehabilitation until she weighed at least 50 pounds.

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At that weight, even if Noli was still very young, she would likely survive. “Studies have shown that at six months — especially in warmer climates like the southeast, and if food like acorns are plentiful — these cubs would be viable,” Dodd explained.

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Thankfully, Noli didn’t disappoint. She was a healthy eater and gained weight quickly, becoming a proper roly-poly black bear. And so on November 9, 2015, the rehabilitation center released Noli and three other of her bear friends back into the forests.

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“Today, our mission with Marvin, Carter, Noli and Sola came to an end with their release back to the wild,” the rehabilitation center wrote on their Facebook page.

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“It’s what you and ABR have been working toward since the day they arrived. They are big, healthy cubs; their weights ranged from 77 to 97 pounds,” the center added. “We wish them a long and happy life.”

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In order to give her the best chance at survival, the team released Noli close to where the river-rafting guides had originally found her. And to keep track of her wanderings, Appalachian Bear Rescue fitted her with a radio collar and identifiable ear tags too.

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Not surprisingly, Noli’s heart-warming story made her many fans – even some as far afield as Australia, Europe and Asia. In fact, when Appalachian Bear Rescue auctioned off a felt replica of the little bear, the bids flocked in. In the end, the replica fetched more than $500 for the charity – proving once again that Noli is much more than just the average bear.

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