Agonizing Choices: Four Life and Death Decisions with Animals In Crisis

From the beginning of time, people across all cultures have been enthralled by wild animals. From spotting an African leopard on a Kenyan safari to admiring the elephants at the local zoo, we just can’t seem to get enough of wildlife encounters. From a safe viewing spot, that is. 

For some folks, this innate human affinity for the wild kingdom runs just a little deeper. These are the brave souls who choose to work with wild animals professionally. Whether that’s caring for animals at a small urban zoo, overseeing a breeding program at a major conservation center, or protecting animals in the wild near their natural habitat, these dedicated caregivers are committed to safeguarding the individual animals under their care – and in many cases, to the survival of the species as a whole.  

Caring for wild animals requires extensive training and strict adherence to safety protocols. Even those semi-domesticated zoo animals that seem to have it pretty easy compared to their untamed counterparts are still wild creatures at their core. Regardless of how laid back and comfortable around people an animal may seem, its behavior can change in an instant. In some cases, this creates a life-or-death situation requiring the animal’s caregivers to make an excruciatingly hard decision on the spot. These are the type of harrowing stories you’re about to read.


We begin with a story about an orangutan named Dana, her devoted caregivers and the miracle baby that almost never was.


Just look at this photo. Can you think of anything more adorable than a baby orangutan? It’s no wonder that they’re one of the most popular zoo animals! But it’s not just their cute appearance that draws us to these sweet creatures. We’re also fascinated by how much like us they are! 

Orangutans are one of our closest cousins. Humans and orangutans share more than 97% of their DNA. Yes, they spend most of their time swinging gracefully from trees with their uniquely long arms — while we plod along flat-footed down on the ground. But our similarities are readily apparent in many other ways, from our facial features to the way we hold objects with our shared secret evolutionary weapon: opposable thumbs.


These astonishingly intelligent, playful and fascinating creatures differ from us in one especially significant way: their status as a species. Unlike humans, who face potentially dire consequences from global overpopulation, orangutans are in danger of complete extinction.

Prior to globalization, orangutans were a thriving species that filled the rain forests of their native Indonesia. But rapid deforestation has devastated their natural habitat, particularly due to the palm oil industry. Another critical threat is the illegal pet trade; young orangutans are particularly prized to trap them, poachers typically kill the mother in brutal fashion.

Wildfires also contribute to orangutan mortality. Sadly, however, human activity is mostly to blame for the severe threat to this extraordinary species.


All three species of orangutans are critically endangered; the rarest species, the Tapanuli orangutan, is the most endangered primate on the planet. A century ago, an estimated 230,000 orangutans lived in the wild. Today, only about 115,000 remain. Take that in: in 100 years, the population has shrunk by half. And it’s getting worse over time: the majority of the decline has happened in the past forty years alone.

Approximately 2,000 to 3,000 orangutans have been killed every single year of the past four decades. If orangutans continue to die at this rate, scientists fear they could vanish entirely within 50 years.

Tambako the Jaguar/Flickr

The situation could not be more urgent. But what can be done about this decimation of the orangutan population? At the most basic level, there are only two things that can be done: reduce the mortality rate or increase the number of births.

Fortunately, there are international efforts underway on both fronts. There are some wildlife groups that focus on protecting orangutans in the wild by enforcing restrictions on poaching, rescuing and re-releasing trafficked animals, and building community support for conservation.

Other conservation organizations come at the problem from the other end: building the population through carefully planned breeding initiatives. It’s in exactly this type of program that the remarkable story of Dana the orangutan took place.

Jersey Tourism/Flickr

Dana is a resident of the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust, one of the places where important population recovery work is happening. Located on the isle of Jersey in the English Channel, Durrell was founded as The Jersey Zoo in 1959 by naturalist and author Gerald Durrell. The conservation center houses and conducts breeding operations for more than 100 endangered species.

Of all of the mammals, reptiles, birds, fish and insects cared for at Durrell, the orangutan is the creature that the institution’s founder held closest to his heart. Durrell has kept orangutans since 1963, beginning with the more populous Bornean species and adding the rarer Sumatran species several years later. Today, the program is focused wholly on Sumatran orangutans like Dana. 

One of the biggest challenges that programs like Durrell face is that orangutans have a naturally low reproduction rate: most females only give birth about once every 8 years — this is the longest time between births of any mammal in existence. Most females produce only four or five babies in their lifetime.


Dana was 20 years old when she joined the Durrell breeding program in 2008. Generally, life is pretty sweet for the animals who live at the wildlife preserve. But when the survival of your species is at stake, it creates a bit of pressure on females of childbearing age like Dana. A lot was riding on her reproductive success — particularly since it had been years since Durrell’s last orangutan birth.

At 20, Dana was relatively late getting started. So it’s no surprise that the news of her pregnancy less than a year after her arrival was met with a huge sigh relief.  To head ape keeper Gordon Hunt and the rest of the dedicated staff, it was a momentous occasion — a potential turning point in their efforts to save the Sumatran species, which then numbered less than 7,000.

But then, tragedy struck. The pregnancy had appeared to be progressing normally but when Dana went into labor, things went terribly wrong. To the horror of everyone present at the birth, her infant was stillborn. For Dana, the loss was profound. Like other apes, orangutans are known to experience and express tremendous grief over the death of a loved one — particularly an infant. Chimp mothers in the wild sometimes carry their infants’ mummified remains for weeks. Mountain gorillas behave similarly.

Norbert Guthier

Unfortunately, the catastrophes didn’t stop there. After the baby had emerged, Dana began hemorrhaging massive amounts of blood. The frantic medical staff took every measure they could to save her. Thanks to their heroic efforts, she barely survived the near-death experience.

She was safe, which was most important. Sadly, however, there was little reason for hope about her future maternal prospects. The near-fatal hemorrhaging left the ape’s fallopian tubes blocked. While obviously thrilled that she had survived, Gordon and his team knew it was unlikely she would ever be able to produce offspring.

After some time had passed, however, Gordon realized that giving up was not an option when so much was at stake. He decided to call Dr. Neil MacLachlan, an esteemed obstetrician from Jersey’s General Hospital, to see if he could perform surgery to reverse Dana’s infertility. It was kind of a long shot: Dr. MacLachlan was a human physician, not a veterinarian. Nonetheless, he agreed to give it his best shot. After all, he reasoned, the internal organs of orangutans and humans (like so many other characteristics) are nearly identical.

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In early 2013, Dana became pregnant once again, confirming that Dr. MacLachlan’s experimental operation had been a success! As thrilling as this news was to all involved, the specter of Dana’s last pregnancy was hard to shake. Gordon and the Durrell team dedicated every possible resource — time, money, medical capabilities, etc. — to the health of Dana and her unborn child.

The birth went off without a hitch: the baby popped out, Dana cleaned him off, all was well. Amazingly, the anxious team had the forethought to film the birth. This is thought to be the first orangutan birth ever recorded — and you can view the extraordinary event here.

Amid all the post-birth celebration, it’s safe to say that no one was expecting what happened next. Dana suddenly looked up from her nursing baby and rushed with the infant toward the group that had gathered on the other side of the birthing room’s glass barrier. Everyone froze in horror. Had they invaded her privacy, made her feel threatened? But all was OK: it appeared that she was actually running over with delight and pride! They named him KeaJaiban, which means “miracle” in Indonesian.

Eric Kimby

Thanks to Dana’s own strength and the heroic dedication of the Durrell staff, her story turned out to be a happy one. People who care for wild animals are often forced to make hard decisions on the spot in the face of extremely challenging, frequently dangerous situations. In Dana’s case, her caregivers made the right choices and came out as heroes. In other cases, the decisions turn out tragically and the animal keepers are harshly criticized.

One such sad tale involves Harambe, a silverback (aka male) gorilla at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden. Harambe was just an adolescent — 17 years old — when the terrible events of May 28, 2016, occurred.

Mind meal/en.wikipedia

Named for a Rita Marley song, Harambe was born at a Brownsville, Texas, zoo. He lived a happy life there until age 15, when zookeepers decided it would benefit his development to join a new social group of apes.

For his first two years in Cincinnati, life continued peacefully and trouble-free. Harambe integrated well into the zoo’s Gorilla World ape community and gave his caregivers no cause for concern.

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Apes are always a major zoo attraction and it’s no different in Cincinnati. A truly magnificent animal, Harambe was a zoo-goer favorite.

As you’d expect of the world’s largest primate, he was a formidable figure — over 400 pounds of pure strength. A western lowland gorilla (one of the two gorilla subspecies), he boasted a shiny grey-tinged coat and a strong brow.

USA-Reiseblogger from Pixabay

Despite their exceptional size and strength, Gorillas are actually relatively mild-mannered — especially in comparison to their scrappier chimp cousins. One reason is that gorillas are not particularly territorial, which is something of a rarity in the animal kingdom. They’ve even earned the nickname “gentle giants.” (As you’ll see, whether they deserve this benign moniker is a matter of opinion…)

That said, gorillas aren’t exactly shrinking violets. If there is a perceived threat, they’re very capable of some very dramatic posturing. Males, in particular, are quite expressive when aiming to intimidate (think chest-beating).

To a toddler, however, gorillas are just plain fascinating. Young children are innately drawn to animals, ferocious or meek.


Which brings us to that fateful day in May of 2016. While visiting the zoo’s Gorilla World, a three-year-old boy felt he needed to see Harambe and the other great apes just a little bit closer. He quietly popped over the barrier fence and intended to go no further. But the little tyke slipped — and tumbled 15 feet down into the moat that encircled the gorillas’ island.


When someone in the crowd spotted the child down below, complete chaos ensued. Naturally, the boy’s parents were the most distraught. But the zookeepers, of course, were in utter panic as well.

As the child’s parents and other zoo visitors scrambled to figure out a rescue plan, the keepers made a beeline for the gorillas’ island. They quickly corralled two of the apes into their cages — but the third, Harambe, resisted. He wanted to inspect the small creature that had just landed in his habitat.


Harambe inspected the boy. Then, he took the child into his clutches and, for ten excruciating minutes, dragged him through the water. The crowd stood in helpless horror, as the nightmare scene unfolded.

Naturally, the frenzied onlookers couldn’t just sit there watching in silence. As their shrieks and sobs grew louder, Harambe became increasingly agitated. Unfortunately, provoking the massive beast was not in the best interest of the little boy — or, as it turned out — of Harambe.


Initially, the zookeepers watched the scene with disbelief as they assessed their next step. They had no way to compel Harambe to release the little boy voluntarily any more than the onlookers did. But the keepers did have a tool at their disposal that could put a stop to what was happening. The thought was horrific: euthanizing a healthy animal is every zookeeper’s worst nightmare.

But a child’s safety was at stake. Even with their own commitment to an animal under their care, the keepers knew that a human life takes priority. They felt they had no choice but to kill the gorilla. With a single shot, Harambe life was terminated.


Thankfully, the boy emerged from the encounter with barely a scrape. But still, an animal was dead. The sensational incident made headlines across the country. When a video of the event was released, it sparked widespread outrage.

Droves of animal-rights activists showed up to protest the zoo’s choice to kill Harambe. Some of the more extreme demonstrators directed their vitriol towards the toddler’s parents as well, accusing the bereaved couple of negligent parenting that was responsible for the animal’s death.

Ben Tullis/Flickr

In the aftermath of the terrible event, one theory that started taking hold among the public was that Harambe was actually trying to protect the child, not hurt him. Therefore, the theory went, the boy was never in harm’s way — and the zoo acted without justification when it killed the animal.


You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone on the planet who cares more about the survival of great apes than primatologist and author Jane Goodall. Naturally, she was devastated to hear the news of Harambe’s death — but she didn’t allow those emotions to cloud her judgment. She didn’t share the protestor’s outrage at the zoo’s decision to euthanize the animal. In her view, they had no other choice.

It was awful for the child, the parents, Harambe, the zoo, the keepers and the public. But when people come into contact with wild animals, life and death decisions sometimes have to be made.

Amanda O’Donoughe/Facebook

Another person who spoke out in defense of the zoo’s decision was Amanda O’Donoughe, a veteran zookeeper who spent days obsessively studying the video after the terrible incident. During this period, public opinion was leaning more and more to the view that the boy was never in danger and the Cincinnati Zoo had killed the animal needlessly.

Amanda had not witnessed the incident personally, nor was she connected professionally to the Cincinnati Zoo. Nonetheless, she felt compelled to speak out in order to dispel some of the false assumptions that were gaining traction with the public.

Wallpaper Flare

In a widely circulated statement that she released on Facebook, Amanda vigorously contended that the little boy had actually been in immense danger. She emphasized that however gentle, interesting or human-like gorillas may seem to be, they are not humans but wild animals with immense strength and power.

… a 400+ pound male in his prime is as strong as roughly 10 adult humans. What can you bench press? OK, now multiply that number by ten.

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In Amanda’s view, the idea that Harambe was trying to protect the toddler was misguided anthropomorphization — in other words, sheer fantasy. She didn’t believe the ape was thinking about the boy’s safety at all. An adult male silverback gorilla has one job, to protect his group. He does this by bluffing or intimidating anything that he feels threatened by.

Amanda noted clear signs in the video that Harambe was growing increasingly agitated by the boisterous crowd. This behavior is what convinced her that the child was in danger — regardless of whether Harambe intended to harm him. 

Males do very elaborate displays when highly agitated, slamming and dragging things about… to make as much noise as possible. Not in an effort to hurt anyone or anything (usually) but just to intimidate. 

The Amur Tiger Programme, Russian Academy of Sciences

Amanda also addressed another question that was on many people’s minds: why the zoo had chosen to use deadly force when tranquilizing darts were also available to them. As the former zookeeper explained in her Facebook post, the reason the zoo decided to use lethal force is that attempting to sedate the animal could have actually turned the situation even more dangerous.

The tranquilizing serum could have taken too long to immobilize the agitated animal; in the meantime, the medication and/or the dart itself could further inflame him. And, even if the dart did turn out to sedate Harambe on impact, the outcome would likely be his collapsing (and potentially drowning) in the moat — and possibly crushing the tiny child.


Although Harambe was just one animal, his death was especially tragic due to his species. While the western lowland gorilla is the more numerous of the two gorilla species, they are still critically endangered.

The exact population of western lowland gorillas, scientists aren’t able to say with absolute specificity. The species is widely dispersed across the tropical greenbelt of central Africa; their preference for the densest and most remote corners of these rainforests makes accurate counts elusive.

Like their orangutan cousins, gorillas are in urgent need of protective conservation measures. A combination of poaching and disease is decimating the population, which has declined by over 60% in the last two to three decades alone. Endangered species scientists estimate that, even if every threat were removed, it would take 75 years for the gorilla population to recover.

U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Public Affairs

As you’d expect, the demonstrations against the zoo were raucous and highly visible. After all, the purpose of a protest is to attract attention to a certain cause. But there were also many (less conspicuous) people for whom Harambe’s death was simply sad. In dozens of candlelight vigils around the country, groups of mourners gathered to honor the animal’s memory.

mohamed hassan/PxHere

Over time, Harambe has taken on a kind of celebrity/fallen hero status in popular culture — particularly in social media. In fact, the ape became a true staple of internet meme culture.

Kyle McCarthy

Harambe lives on as an honored figure at the Cincinnati Zoo — unfortunately, so does the controversy surrounding his death. Perhaps a silver lining is that all of the discourse that the sad event has inspired will help prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future.

Amanda expressed this hope eloquently in her Facebook post: As educators and conservators of endangered species, all we can do is shine a light on the beauty and majesty of these animals in hopes to spark a love and a need to keep them from vanishing from our planet.

Tony Hisgett/Flickr

Sadly, Harambe’s tragic death was not an isolated event. Several years later, zookeepers across the ocean at England’s Dudley Zoo had to make a similarly excruciating decision.

As in Cincinnati, the crisis was caused by a freak accident involving one of the zoo’s wild animals. And, as their American counterparts had been, the zookeepers at Dudley were seasoned professionals, highly trained for this type of emergency situation.

Jonathan Riddell/Flickr

The Dudley Zoo is a favorite destination for local families. One special feature of the zoo is the number of opportunities for up-close interactions with the animals, many of whom roam freely around the grounds. And not just peacocks — we’re talking lemurs, wallabies, Brazilian tapirs (as you see above) and more.

Nonetheless, one of the most popular animals at Dudley in 2018 was definitely not available for any petting or other up close and personal visitor activity.

Jessica Paterson/Flickr

As with zoos everywhere, the big cats at Dudley have always been a huge draw. In 2018, one cat was especially admired: an eight-year-old snow leopard named Margaash. He wasn’t the only one of his species in residence, but he was the hands-down favorite.


As was the case with Harambe in Cincinnati, it was usually Dudley’s youngest visitors who were most captivated by the majestic cat. Margaash had all the beautiful features of his species: thick, creamy fur with smoky gray spots and ringed rosettes — and a spectacularly long, thick tail.

Eric Kilby/Flickr

In addition to his breathtaking beauty, Margaash was something of a ham.  While the other snow leopards tended to lay low most of the time, Margaash was nearly always keen to show off for his admiring visitors. The animal’s playfulness enchanted his zookeepers too; he was a hands-down favorite with the zoo staff as well as its guests.

Margaash’s relatively outgoing personality was actually quite remarkable. While all big cats other than lions are solitary, snow leopards are considered the biggest loners of all. In fact, these notoriously shy, reclusive creatures are rarely seen in the wild — which has earned them the nickname “ghosts of the mountain.”


Because he was such an unusually engaging character, Dudley’s zookeepers had to be vigilant about remembering that Margaash was a wild animal. As such, he required extreme caution and strict adherence to safety protocols when handling. One sloppy move could end disastrously.


Unfortunately, that one careless moment came to pass in 2018. At every zoo, routines are paramount to animal and human safety. Dudley employees were seasoned professionals who followed guidelines to a T… until one of them didn’t. 

On this particular evening in 2018, zoo staff was executing the turn-down/lock-up protocol with their typical precision when one of the workers suddenly cried out in horror. The door to the snow leopard enclosure was wide open! The worst-case scenario that immediately popped into everyone’s mind was confirmed moments later: Margaash was missing.

Library of Congress

Every zoo worker immediately began to furiously search for the escaped cat. But no one felt certain that he would be found. The Dudley Zoo is a sprawling campus with multiple structures, landscape features and vegetation. In other words, there were a million places for Margaash to hide.

Mercifully, the zoo had already closed for the day and no visitors remained. Still, the zoo’s grounds did not extend forever. A snow leopard’s extraordinarily powerful legs enable the animal to run as fast as 55 mph and leap up to 50 feet at a time. The workers feared it would not take Margaash long to reach the zoo’s perimeter and cross over into the wide-open world.

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When Margaash was finally spotted, he was just about to put those amazing jumping skills to use. The cat was poised at the very edge of the zoo’s grounds, moments from bounding into the strip of forested land that surrounded the campus. When he reached the other side, there would be no barrier remaining between the wild animal and the vulnerable, unsuspecting public. 

Dave Pape

In an instant, zoo security arrived on the scene, armed with tranquilizer guns intended for animal escapes like this one. Margaash was highly agitated and trapping the cat was not an option under these frantic circumstances. Sedating him immediately seemed like the obvious move.

But the security team was overridden by the zoo’s veterinarian, who had been brought in to the situation by phone. The vet directed the officers to use an actual bullet. The doctor argued that the risk of the animal escaping before the tranquilizer took effect was too great; plus, it was nearly dark and tracking him down again would be almost impossible.

As with Harambe, Margaash’s life came to an end with a single shot.


As you can imagine, Margaash’s death was not any better received by animal rights groups than Harambe’s had been. Certainly, the incident outraged those who were philosophically opposed to zoos in the first place — for these folks, zoos are nothing but animal prisons.

But the circumstances of Margaash’s killing raised eyebrows among more moderate people as well. With no human being in immediate danger, many questioned whether it was really necessary to kill the animal. Plus, it was dark: realistically, how many people would have been out in the street at that time?

A particularly damning factor for the zoo was the fact that the tragedy was caused by plain human error. This kind of mistake by someone entrusted to care for an endangered animal was seen as unacceptable. With only 5,000 or so snow leopards left in the wild, Margaash’s death was an immense loss. Let’s hope that Dudley Zoo has enacted stricter training and enforcement of zoo procedures and that zoos around the world have reviewed their own safety and training protocols.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Our final wild animal story is a bit different: this creature didn’t live in a zoo. He lived in the wild — or was supposed to at any rate…

American black bears don’t typically go looking for trouble. They’re pretty shy, in fact. However, like the majority of wild animals, bears will fight when they feel threatened. Nobody wants to take on an enormous, clawed beast; a bear wandering into a human-occupied area is never a welcome sight. But that’s exactly what happened in the Alligator Point community on St. James Island in the Florida panhandle.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

So why would an inherently timid animal end up strolling into a suburban neighborhood? Because in addition to being timid, they’re also scavengers with big appetites.

After sniffing around for snacks for some time, the massive creature came upon a jackpot: a big, smelly bag of garbage. Witnesses immediately called for help from the professionals: the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alex Echols

In situations like these, conservation officers typically use a tranquilizer gun to sedate the wild animal. Shooting an animal isn’t an idea anyone relishes, even when it’s just a sedating measure for the safety of the animal as well as humans. But tranquilizer guns are standard protocol for good reason. This bear didn’t want a human run-in any more the people of Alligator Point did — but in a populated area, that encounter is essentially inevitable.

U.S. Air Force photo courtesy of Lisa Norman

Any interaction with a wild animal must be handled with absolute adherence to established safety measures. FWC officers are well-trained to manage this type of wildlife event. Their goal is two-fold: tranquilize the animal long enough to ensure the safety of people in the immediate area and then relocate it back to its natural habitat.

Megan Newman/Pexels

Just to be clear: this wasn’t the FWC officers’ first time at the rodeo. They approached the situation with appropriate caution — but also confidence that they could handle whatever unexpected turns happened along the way. Despite their experience and training, however, they would never have suspected how far off-course things would go.

Things started off well, with the tranquilizer dart hitting the bear straight on. But instead of sedating him, the shot sent the bear into an absolute panic and he took off at a tear. The officers had no choice but to chase him, which probably terrified the massive creature even more. He headed straight for a nearby pier and swam out into the water as fast as he could.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

As the officers got closer, they observed with horror that the bear’s movements were beginning to slow. The sedative was kicking in. Then, the bear suddenly reared up vertically out of the water — but instead of lunging forward, the massive animal fell backward and disappeared underwater for several seconds.

That’s when FWC biologist/officer Adam Warwick knew he had to take immediate action to save the animal from drowning. In an act of unbelievable bravery, the officer tore off his shirt and dove into the Gulf of Mexico to rescue a drowning, 375-pound, six-and-a-half-foot tall black bear.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Adam swam with all his might toward the desperate beast, not hesitating for a moment to consider the potential danger to himself. It’s hard not to wonder if you’d be capable of doing the same thing in this situation. Actually, Adam acknowledges that he might not have been able to do it himself if he’d had any time to consider his actions.

It was a spur of the moment decision. I had a lot of adrenaline pumping when I saw the bear in the water.

Adam grabbed the enormous animal with both hands, wrapped his arms around the bear’s neck and rolled him onto his back.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Then, using every muscle in his body, Adam began to kick toward shallow water, dragging the helpless beast back to where the other wildlife officers were waiting…

It was an extraordinarily strenuous process. Not yet fully sedated, the bear periodically jerked in distress. At one point, he tried frantically to climb on top of his rescuer. Gradually, the bear began to lose motion in his legs.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

With calm determination and seemingly superhuman strength, Adam continued to maneuver the immense creature on their 25-yard trek to the shallow waters where the rescue boat floated at the ready. Unfortunately, moving the bear through shallow water took even more effort.

As they approached the boat, Adam managed to muster one last burst of courage and muscle power. He carefully rotated the bear onto his stomach (all while supporting his head above water) and then guided him by the scruff of his neck to anxiously awaiting officers.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Once the bear had been moved back in to the shoreline, more FWS colleagues stepped in to help with the final actions of the extraordinary undertaking. Adam’s heroic bravery throughout this ordeal is beyond question — but teamwork was an essential factor as well.

Amazingly, Adam’s injuries amounted to a single scratch. That’s it! Speaking of superhuman…

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

They eased the bear back onto solid ground…  now what? The group needed to do a quick brainstorming session to figure out how to get a 375-pound, immobilized animal from the water’s edge all the way back to his home in Osceola National Forest.

The resourceful team came up with a solution quickly: a tractor. Luckily, the animal was almost fully out at this point. Together, they rolled the sleepy beast onto the vehicle’s loader.

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Before the bear’s release (and, of course, before he emerged from his tranquilized state), Adam grabbed a quiet moment with the massive creature whose life he had just saved. The two had been through quite an experience together.

Thanks to the heroic actions of Officer Warwick and the unflinching help of his colleagues, the bear emerged totally unscathed from the entire ordeal. 

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission

Finally, we arrive at the very happiest part of this happy ending. The Florida black bear was safely returned to his home and natural forest habitat. I’m guessing he hasn’t had the urge to venture too far into the outside world lately.