Yogi might have been smarter than the average bear, but he still had to resort to stealing picnic baskets when he was hungry. But if this bear – which saw somebody’s trash as a free all-you-can-eat buffet – had known how his meal would end, he would have chosen to hibernate instead.
Before he became a media sensation for a selfless act of heroism, Adam Warwick’s career choices already arguably suggested that he was a caring and concerned citizen. Taking an interest in wildlife and ecology, he began his career in April 2000 as a field assistant and then a year later served as a technical advisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Warwick’s claim to fame, though, occurred during his work as a wildlife biologist. He took on the position – which included habitat restoration and monitoring the numbers of endangered species in Florida – in February 2004. But perhaps his most bizarre encounter happened a few years later.
“It was 2008 and I was working as a wildlife biologist on Alligator Point, a peninsula off the Florida Panhandle,” Warwick told the Financial Times in 2014. “There are about 5,000 Florida black bears in the state, so there were a lot of encounters with bears in the beach-front community there.”
During that hot summer, a fisherman reported seeing a large black bear swimming close to the shore. And after several sightings of the exploring ursine in the following weeks, Warwick kept an eye on the situation and hoped that the bear would wander off by himself.
“One evening, our dispatcher called and said, ‘That bear is under somebody’s house.’ My team and I arrived to find a 375-pound seven- or eight-year-old bear,” he told the Financial Times. Naturally, the hungry bear had decided that the neighbor’s trash offered an excellent opportunity to stop for a bite.
But catching the bear proved difficult. From looking at his ear tag, Warwick knew that he would be wary of traps, as he had been caught that way before. Most likely, the bear wouldn’t fall for the same trick twice. Hence, Warwick decided that his team’s best option was to tranquilize the beast, and Warwick’s colleague successfully made the shot while the bear was distracted with his lunch.
“The dart hit him in the hindquarters. Usually a bear will go down in about 10 minutes,” Warwick explained. “He wandered across the road that runs down the peninsula and a few cars stopped, which freaked him out. Then he headed towards the bay.”
The confused bear had decided that the best way to lose his chasers was to swim for it and scramble for the other side of the bay. However, while the cunning creature was testing the water, the tranquilizers started to take effect and the bear stumbled.
Frighteningly, the bear was soon in deep water when the drugs really kicked in and started to do their job. With the groggy animal flailing in a desperate attempt to doggy-paddle across the bay, then, Warwick dived in to try and get him back to shore.
“I ran out on a dock and took off my shirt,” Warwick revealed to the newspaper. “My friend asked me what I was doing and I said, I can’t let him drown. The bear had started swimming out, and I dived in to head him off. At 40 yards from shore, we met.”
According to Warwick, it was a spur-of-the-moment decision to save the bear’s life, and his adrenaline was pumping as he swam out in an effort to re-route the animal. “I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when I jumped in,” he told the Telegraph in a 2008 interview. “I wanted to keep him from swimming into deeper water.”
The biologist then swam in front of the bear and tried to send him back to the shore by splashing him with water. However, the animal seemed to react in the same way that a drowning human sometimes does: by making a move to clamber on top of his rescuer for safety.
“I think he was going to try to climb on me to keep from drowning,” he said to the Financial Times. “He lost his balance and went under for a second, so I swam around and grabbed the scruff of his neck to hold his head above water.” That tactic, by the way, is also the best approach for saving a drowning human as well.
But this, again, is a bear Warwick was dealing with, and quite quickly the creature threw him off. After a couple more tries, and a failed attempt from a boater to help, though, our hero managed to get hold of the drowning animal again – and, this time, swim the beast back towards the bank.
Finally, the biologist got the bear back into shallow water again, and it turned out to be the easiest part of the rescue thanks to the bear’s buoyancy. “It’s a lot easier to drag a bear in four-foot water than move him on dry land,” he told the Telegraph.
Miraculously, Warwick only sustained two injuries from the event, and only one of them was from his furry swimming partner: he got a single scratch from the bear but a cut on his foot from a barnacle. Not surprisingly, the amazing rescue was all over the media at the time and then went viral on the internet.
Indeed, Warwick became so renowned for the rescue that even now, in his current job at the Nature Conservancy, he’s still getting asked about it. “Six years after the fact, Warwick can’t get away from his role as ursine savior,” the Nature Conservancy wrote on its website.
Curiously, some of the attention Warwick received got a little out of hand; for example, he was given gifts of toy bears as well as marriage proposals and checks. “I didn’t ever cash them,” Warwick said to the Financial Times, “but I thought it was nice.” So what became of the bear? “We got a backhoe down there to lift him out of the water, then we took him to a national forest,” he elaborated.
Though given the nickname “the bear man” around town, Warwick eventually left Alligator Point in 2013 to pursue his current career position. “I moved to North Carolina to become a stewardship manager for the Nature Conservancy,” he added to the newspaper. “I work more directly with conserving habitat than I do putting my hands on bears. I miss the bears a lot, though. All the time.”